Michigan State Can Really Shake Little Brother Tag with Rose Bowl Win

Andrew Coppens@@andycoppensContributor IDecember 19, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 07:  Darien Harris #45 of the Michigan State Spartans celebrates after Michigan State beat Ohio State Buckeyes 34-24  in the Big Ten Championship at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 7, 2013 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Little brother.

That's the derogatory moniker Michigan State's worn since 2007, when Michigan running back Mike Hart stuck it on the Spartans after the Wolverines' comeback win.

At that point, Michigan had just won for the ninth time in 11 tries against MSU. 

However, the Spartans' loss also led to this epic statement from head coach Mark Dantonio

Since that day, these teams have gone in opposite directions, and with a win in the Rose Bowl, Michigan State can push aside that "little brother" tag.

Michigan State has won five of six against UM, won an outright Big Ten title, shared another and won a division title as well. 

No one believed any of that possible when Dantonio stepped foot on the East Lansing campus.

This was a school that hadn't won a Big Ten championship since sharing it in 1990, even with a coach such as Nick Saban on campus. 

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 07: Head coach Mark Dantonio of the Michigan State Spartans holds up the Big Ten championship trophy next to Denicos Allen #28 after defeating the Ohio State Buckeyes 34-24 at the Big 10 Conference Championship Game at Lucas Oi
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Spartans were struggling to recruit decent players to campus, had been better than .500 just twice in a seven-year period before Dantonio took over, and had lost the last five games against Michigan.

The climb has been slow, beginning with winning the 2008 game against Michigan, taking a share of the 2010 conference title and then getting to the Big Ten title game in 2011. 

Good, but not good enough. 

Wisconsin jumped the Spartans into the Rose Bowl in 2010 thanks to a higher BCS ranking, despite the head-to-head loss.

The next season, it was a controversial penalty late in the first-ever Big Ten title game that allowed those same Badgers to win and get back to the Rose Bowl.

But all of that—the bad memories and bad calls—led to this: The No. 4 Spartans' first trip to the Rose Bowl since 1988. 

"I feel like we've been on the cusp of this three out of the last four years," said Dantonio earlier this week. "I feel like we were sort of looked past in 2010. I still feel that way, even though we didn't measure up in the bowl game. But that was a pretty good football team, and we were there in that environment. But the 2011 team was very close to being here in this same situation, and now we have the opportunity. The more times you get there, the more opportunities you have to get over the hump, I think, too."

The hump is winning the game everyone in the Big Ten cares about the most (sorry, BCS National Championship Game)—the Rose Bowl.

Only a date with No. 5 Stanford, a team making its second straight Rose Bowl appearance, stands in the way of Michigan State arriving on the national scene for good. 

It's something that isn't lost on Dantionio either. 

"I think it's very important," Dantonio said. "We're up there, and we want to show that we deserve to be up there. So it's very important. You're on a big stage. You get to the championship, and you're on a big stage. While we took care of business there and we showed that we belonged on that stage, now it's important to show that we belong on this national stage."

If the Spartans can beat Stanford, they'll leave the "little brother" tag in the past. 


*Andy Coppens is Bleacher Report's lead writer for the Big Ten. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. You can follow Andy on Twitter: @ andycoppens