Michigan and Michigan State will always be measured against one another. That’s how it’s been for decades, and it’ll continue being a part of the classic college football rivalry until the game is no more.
With history on their side, it’s difficult for any program to top the Wolverines’ resume, even their Rose Bowl-bound “little brothers” who have won five of the past six in-state clashes but still have miles to go before inching even in the series (68-33-5).
The Spartans are on the rise and have been for seven years. Perhaps the most-undervalued coach in the NCAA, Mark Dantonio is earning his reputation one huge game at a time.
On the other hand, since starting 11-2 in 2011, Brady Hoke has slid backward on the heels of two five-loss seasons. He’s 1-2 versus Dantonio, a coach who doesn’t often get the high-profile talents that gravitate toward Ann Arbor, and he hasn’t come through with era-defining victories—the “type of way” Dantonio operates.
A 7-5 finish was usually reserved for the guys in East Lansing. Watching Michigan compete for Big Ten titles and trips to nationally hyped bowl games must have been rough.
Today, the Spartans are flexing their muscle while the Wolverines seem to be nothing more than a meek, run-of-the-mill opponent. Instead of a date with destiny, they meet Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
Yeah. That game.
What happened to the “victors” and “leaders?" It seems as if the roles were reversed this season. Michigan State stumbled to 7-6 in 2012 and wasn't picked to win the league, let alone its division.
Michigan had the potential, on paper, to take an unblemished record into "The Game" vs. Ohio State. Go ahead, scratch your head and ponder that one.
More than Double-R Problems
Sure, the steady decline can be attributed to the dark days of a former coach. But that guy is winning in Arizona. So maybe it wasn’t all on him.
Hoke is viewed as twice the coach, but he can’t win more than eight games with his own recruits. The “villain” was ousted three years ago, but identical types of setbacks have been common under Hoke, who was out of division-title contention in early November.
Taking over in 2007, Dantonio had to clean up a mess left by John L. Smith, who Rich-Rodded Michigan State.
Of course, Dantonio had his share of obstacles to overcome along the way to glory. It certainly didn’t help that his team was toyed with by the Wolverines in 2007, the year Mike Hart rung out with the infamous “little brother” taunt after a 28-24 comeback.
The Spartans weren’t exactly juggernauts. To an extent, Hart was correct with his observation.
However, his words have returned to bite Michigan in the rear more than once. Someone should have told Fitz Toussaint to keep his lips zipped. But he fell into the trap, using Hart’s LB zinger prior to Nov. 2’s 29-6 beating in East Lansing.
The high-and-mighty bravado of Wolverines football is a part of the story. It provides something to cherish, a sweet tale of valor to tell and retell. But there comes a time when all of that must cease. Past stories aren’t the reality of today’s Michigan.
And that's not the fault of a former coach. Really, that falls more on the current man in charge. It's his team, right?
|First 3 Years|
|Coach||Wins/Best record||Rivalry wins||Bowl wins|
|Hoke (2011-13)||26 (11-2)||1||1|
|Dantonio (2007-09)||22 (9-4)||2||0|
According to 247Sports, Dantonio has the No. 5 class…in his own league; it’s ranked No. 35 nationally. But that doesn’t matter to Michigan State, which thrives with lower-graded athletes.
Since assuming control of Michigan, Hoke has been in the national spotlight, landing prime-timer after prime-timer.
No. 5 in his own league? Try top 10 in the nation.
Michigan has the No. 2 class in the Big Ten and No. 18 nationally, which is a dip considering Hoke’s track record. He has Jabrill Peppers for 2014, but the 2015 crop suffered a loss when George Campbell, a 5-star wide receiver, pulled his verbal pledge.
Throughout the turmoil, commits have gone out of their way to make their connection to Michigan be known.
Shaun Crawford, a 2015 safety, doesn't plan to back away from Michigan.
Shortly after announcing his intent to take other visits, Peppers was visited by Hoke, who also shared a meal with 2014 commit Bryan Mone.
Hoke has the name recognition. He spends quality time with his prospects. Despite a 15-10 record over the past two years, Hoke remains in contention for the elite of the elite. That probably won't change.
An uphill climb, Dantonio struggles to get the top kids. He lost Drake Harris to Michigan, and that was viewed as a sign of more bad luck to come—and it did.
Lawrence Marshall was hot on the Spartans’ radar, but he chose to go blue. Along with Harris, he signified a swing in the Great Lakes state.
But winning on the recruiting trails doesn't really matter. Dantonio wins on the field in spite of that.
Hoke, in all likelihood, understands that part of the process. Five-star recruits who don’t produce aren’t as valuable as a 2- or 3-star player who makes a true impact.
Dantonio has taken a grassroots approach. He’s building his own castle. Hoke is living in the shadow of others’ accomplishments, which is part of the problem.
Pressure to dominate is at a high. Maybe not an all-time high, but it’s close. Hoke is another five-losser away from getting the RR treatment.
Fans continue expressing their dismay. But the criticism isn’t limited to the head coach. From coordinators to position coaches, just about everyone on the staff is subject to scrutiny.
Direction and Perception
Dantonio is exciting.
He dances to Rich Homie Quan’s songs. He’s humorous—everything is more fun when you’re winning, right? He’s viewed as a man with a plan, someone who has taken true ownership of his university.
Has Hoke done that? He’s in danger of taking a backseat to the basketball team. And don’t forget hockey—Michigan typically skates a phenomenally talented bunch.
No headset. No interaction. No interest?
Is Michigan even a football school? Well, of course it is. But Final Fours may be more common than Rose Bowls if Hoke doesn’t take a page out of Dantonio’s playbook.
As a whole, the Spartans’ big two—basketball and football—enjoy national attention. Winning titles in both sports can have a ripple effect, driving success to the court and then back to the gridiron. It’s a win-win.
Publicly, Dantonio’s relationship with athletic director Mark Hollis and hoops guru Tom Izzo appears to be perfect. The trio has created a situation in which everyone can succeed.
That type of continuity doesn't appear as visible in Ann Arbor. Hoke and John Beilein don't have the image of Dantonio and Izzo. That could change, and it would only better everyone involved.
It's time to step away from the 900-win argument. The 11 national titles, with the exception of half of one, stem back to a time long ago. It's not now.
Living in the now and making adjustments will propel Michigan to where it wants to be.
At the moment, that's where the Spartans reside.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81