College Football Rivalries: Ten Key Dates in Michigan-Michigan State History
Football fans across Michigan have anticipated Saturday’s matchup for quite a while. Michigan and Michigan State will meet not only for bragging rights, but a leg-up in the race for the Big Ten title. Many believe the undefeated Spartans (5-0, 1-0) are legitimate contenders, especially after knocking off Wisconsin just days ago at Spartan Stadium.
Michigan (5-0, 1-0), on the other hand, must find the cleverest of wizards to steady one of the Big Ten’s shakiest defenses. If the defense becomes even barely decent, you could add that to the Wolverines' potent offense, and you would have a very competitive football team.
It’s been many years since this rivalry has received so much attention. Spartan fans believe their third-year coach, Mark Dantonio, is finally the man they’ve been looking for. Unfortunately, he’ll be coaching from the press box Saturday, since he suffered a heart attack after the Notre Dame game.
Michigan’s program, on the other hand, has been beset with off-the-field problems, NCAA investigations, player eligibility problems, and a slew of injuries. Coach Rich Rodriguez may be looking for another job, especially if the team crumbles down the stretch like a season ago.
But not all is gloom and doom in the Michigan camp. The Wolverines read-option offense has been phenomenal, and ringleader Denard Robinson has been more than a magician at quarterback. In fact, Robinson has become an instant celebrity. His untied shoes have become national icons, while knock-off Michigan No. 16 t-shirts can be found anywhere.
Of course, the rivalry is about many years of football, not just about the last two seasons as many Spartan fans believe.
Just in case you don’t recall the rivalry’s best moments from 1947, we’ve selected 10 key dates to help make your watercooler chats more memorable.
October 12, 1898: Michigan 39, MAC 0 (Series Begins)
Michigan dominated the early years of the series (which dates back to 1898). The Wolverines posted a 23-2-3 record before the Spartans turned the tide in 1934. Under the tutelage of Coach Charles Bachman, State put together a four-game winning streak, before Michigan regained control.
From 1938 thru 1949 the Wolverines carved out a 10-game winning streak. During the streak, Michigan crushed the Spartans 55-0 in 1947 on the way to a national championship. Michigan also defeated State the following season while winning its second straight national title. Not to be outdone, Michigan State became national champions in 1951 and 1952.
Despite being admitted to the Big Ten in 1949, Michigan State didn’t play its first conference game with Michigan until 1954. Michigan won the 1954 game 33-7, before handing the Spartans their only defeat in 1955. The Spartans took over the series until 1964, when Michigan beat Duffy Daugherty’s squad 17-10, in route to a Big Ten championship and a Rose Bowl win over Oregon State.
Michigan State resumed command, and put together another dual national title run in 1965 and 1966. Since Bo Schembechler took over the Michigan coaching job in 1969, Michigan has regained control of the Spartans, winning 30 of the last 41 games.
Michigan leads the overall series, 67-30-5.
Michigan leads the Big Ten series, 33-21-2
Largest MSU crowd at the Big House (2004) 111,609 (Fourth All Time)
Last meeting: MSU 26, Michigan 20 (ot)
September 27, 1947: Michigan 55, Michigan State 0
1947: 10-0, National Champions
(U-M 49, USC 0, Rose Bowl)
Michigan hosted Michigan State in the 1947 season opener with high expectations. The Wolverines finished the 1946 campaign with a four-game winning streak including convincing wins over Michigan State (55-7) and Ohio State (58-6).
Fritz Crisler also had a new wrinkle to go along with his innovative single-wing offense. He decided to implement two-platoon football, with different units for offense and defense. Crisler also had much of the talent returning from the ’46 outfit.
More than 72,000 showed up at Michigan Stadium in hopes of seeing the “Mad Magicians” put on a show. And that they did—Bump Elliott, Bob Chappius, Howard Yerges, and Jack Weisenberger basically played keep-away from the Spartans. Before the dust had cleared, Michigan had delivered a 55-0 blow to the green meanies, which they would never forget.
The Wolverines went on to finish the season 10-0 including a 49-0 rout of Southern Cal in the Rose Bowl. Michigan, however, was still No. 2 in the polls, and reporters around the country began questioning the idea of awarding the championship to Notre Dame—especially since Michigan was so convincing in its win over the Trojans. So the AP eventually had another vote, and Michigan was named champion.
September 25, 1948: Michigan 13, Michigan State 7
1948: 9-0, National Champions
No Bowl Game
The 1948 team never received the same fanfare as the '47 squad.. New coach Bennie Oosterbaan, who was quite an athlete in his own right, made quite a debut, however. Michigan again opened the season with Michigan State, but this time the game was in East Lansing for the first time since 1924.
Playing on the road—in addition to the fact that Michigan State was still reeling from the previous year’s defeat—made things tough for the Wolverines. To make matters worse ’47 star Bump Elliott was ineligible and the remainder of the ’47 nucleus was gone. But Pete Elliott, Bump’s brother, rescued Michigan, and the Wolverines got out of town with a 13-7 victory. Michigan went on to post a 9-0 record and another national title.
Oosterbaan played for Michigan from 1925-27, earning all-America honors all three seasons. He was an adept receiver, defensive end and quarterback. He was also a two-time basketball all-American and an all-Big Ten baseball player.
November 14, 1953: First Paul Bunyan Trophy Game
1953: Michigan State 14, Michigan 6
You’ve probably noticed it being carried about after every Michigan-Michigan State football game. Symbolic of the Spartans' acceptance into the Big Ten, the Paul Bunyan trophy was donated to the rivalry by former Governor, G. Mennen Williams.
The four-foot statue is representative of the mythical lumberjack Paul Bunyan, whose magical axe supposedly carved out the Grand Canyon and even the Great Lakes. Some claim Bunyan was just a character in a lumber company’s advertising campaign.
Legend places Oscoda, Michigan, as Bunyan’s birthplace, while the end of the line supposedly came in Kelliher, Minnesota.
The trophy, which is definitely real, has gone to the winner each year since 1953. Michigan State grabbed it first with a 14-6 win at Macklin Stadium, but the Wolverines hold a 34-21-2 advantage in the series. The Spartans have kept it the last two years.
November 26, 1973: Spartan Vote Helps ADs Kick Michigan Out of Rose Bowl
Just two days after tying Ohio State 10-10, Michigan awaited a vote from athletic directors to determine the Big Ten’s Rose Bowl representative. Michigan had clearly outplayed the Buckeyes, but Michigan quarterback Dennis Franklin suffered a broken collarbone during the game. It was unsure if he would be ready for the New Year’s Day classic.
Michigan State athletic director Burt Smith was about to cast his vote. Bear in mind that several athletic directors were miffed at Michigan’s Don Canham for spearheading a drive to prevent the Chicago Bears from using Northwestern’s Ryan Field. A year earlier Breslin and Canham battled over television revenues. There was no question how Breslin’s vote would go.
Combined, the ADs voted 6-4 to send the Buckeyes. And since only one Big Ten team could go to a Bowl game, the Wolverines stayed home. On the morning of the game, Franklin was seen throwing passes near his campus residence. Bo Schembechler was still enraged over the whole thing.
October 13, 1990: Michigan State 28, No. 1 Michigan 27
Michigan State came into Ann Arbor unranked and unappreciated. Their 1-2-1 record should have been easy pickings for the No. 1 Wolverines.
Michigan’s offense was loaded: Elvis Grbac at quarterback, Jon Vaughn in the backfield, and Desmond Howard outside.
The Spartans had offensive stars of their own, if only for a day. QB Dan Enos, RBs Hyland Hickson, and Tico Duckett provided enough firepower to give MSU a 21-14 lead with just over five minutes left. Desmond Howard had maybe two big plays left. First, he scored on a 94-yard kickoff return to tie the game at 21.
After Duckett’s nine-yard touchdown run, Derrick Alexander caught a seven-yard pass from Grbac to trim Michigan State’s lead to one. Risking the No. 1 ranking, Michigan decided to go for two.
Grbac called a slant for Howard, and tossed a strike towards the eventual Heisman trophy winner. Either Howard got his legs tangled with the receivers hands, or he was just plain tackled. In either case the striped shirts only saw that Howard dropped the ball.
In any case, Michigan State led 28-27 with six seconds left. The successful onside kick went for naught and Michigan’s dreams vanished.
October 27, 1997: Michigan 23, Michigan State 7
1997: 12-0, National Champions (with Nebraska)
(U-M 21, Washington St. 16, Rose Bowl)
Like 1990, the Wolverines came into Michigan State game undefeated, with thoughts of a Big Ten Title and dreams of a national crown.
The old adage, “defense wins championships” could definitely apply to this squad. Michigan was not about to let this game slip away, especially with defenders like Charles Woodson, Marcus Ray, and Dhani Jones—and a ridiculous points-allowed average of 8.3.
Trickery prevailed early, however, as the Spartans scored first with a 22-yard pass off a fake field goal attempt. QB Bill Burke hit RB Sedrick Irvin as the Michigan faithful cringed with the thought of 1990.
But that was all the scoring Michigan State would do as both Charles Woodson and Marcus Ray notched a pair of interceptions.
Woodson’s first came on a leaping one-handed grab, which not only made most highlight reels nationwide, but also put him in the running for Heisman Trophy.
Michigan went on to knock off Ohio State before sneaking by Washington State 21-6 to claim a share of the national title with Nebraska. Woodson became the second Wolverine in less than a decade to win the Heisman.
October 30, 2004: No. 12 Michigan 45, Michigan State 27 (3ot)
Chad Henne threw two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, and two more in overtime as the Wolverines defeated Michigan State, 43-37.
Three of Henne’s passes went to Braylon Edwards, while the fourth was caught by Jason Avant.
Several series records or near records were set as the game took nearly four hours and 30 minutes to play.
Here’s a look at some M-MSU series records:
253 Butch Woolfolk 1981
224 Mike Hart 2004
11 Braylon Edwards 2004
10 David Terrell 1999
189 Braylon Edwards 2004
30 Tom Brady 1999
285 Tom Brady 1999
273 Chad Henne 2004
October 3, 2009: Michigan State 26, Michigan 20 (ot)
Another freshman quarterback and another overtime game, but the results were totally different. This time, Tate Forcier was picked off by Michigan State’s Chris Rucker in overtime and it was time for the Spartans to finish victorious.
On the change of possession it took only three plays for Larry Caper to score the winning touchdown, cutting around right end from 23 yards out.
Like this year, Michigan started last season 4-0, with Forcier tossing winning touchdown passes against both Notre Dame and Indiana.
It looked like he would use his magic wand against the Spartans, too. Trailing 20-6 midway through the fourth quarter, Forcier first hit Darryl Stonum from 60 yards out with 4:03 left.
He completed the comeback by capping a 12-play, 92-yard drive by finding Roy Roundtree from nine yards out. The Spartan hopefuls were shocked as the scoreboard read 20-20 with :02 on the clock.
From that moment on, things went downhill fast for the Wolverines, as they completed the season dropping six of the last seven games.
September 4, 2010: Connecticut at Michigan—Denard Robinson Becomes a Starter
The capacity crowd gave Denard Robinson a warm welcome, as he began his role as Michigan’s starting quarterback. He faced a 1st-and-10 at his own four-yard line.
Just less than six minutes later, Robinson had directed a 14-play, 96-yard drive for a touchdown. He rushed six times for 68 yards, and completed both pass attempts for 23 yards. Vincent Smith carried the ball in from 12 yards out, and the rest is making history.
With his arm and legs, Robinson has carried the Wolverines to five straight victories and has placed himself smack in the middle of early Heisman conversations.
He’s the talk of the town, if not the nation. Opposing coaches and defensive coordinators refer to him as “scary."
In just over four games, Robinson’s numbers are frightening, indeed.
Rushing: 98 carries, 905 yards, 8 TDs.
Passing: 67-of-96, 1,008 yards, 1 INT, 7 TDs.
And his leadership is just as impressive. Hopefully you saw him orchestrate the final touchdown drive against the Hoosiers. While the Spartans may lay claim to one of the top three defenses in the conference, they haven’t seen the likes of “Shoelace” in quite some time.
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