Michigan vs. Michigan State: Will "Little Bro" Sparty Win 4th in a Row vs. UM?

Sean LansingContributor IOctober 15, 2011

ANN ARBOR, MI - OCTOBER 01: Vincent Smith #2 of the Michigan Wolverines scores on a 28-yard pass from teammate Denard Robinson #16 and celebrates with teammates Kevin Koger #86 and Junior Hemingway #21 during the second quarter of the game against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at Michigan Stadium on October 1, 2011 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  Michigan defeated the Gophers 58-0. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
Leon Halip/Getty Images

It’s that time of the year again.

Are the Wolverines, Denard Robinson and (insert coach's name here) for real, or are they just another first-half flash in the pan for the third season in a row? 

Back in 2009, Rich Rodriguez had Michigan off to a 4-0 start, and the Wolverines were ranked as high as No. 22 before finishing the year 1-7.

In 2010, Rodriguez had the Maize and Blue ranked No. 19 with a 5-0 record. They finished the season 2-5 before getting destroyed by Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl.

Exit Rich-Rod, enter “Michigan Man” Brady Hoke.

Under the first-year head coach, the Wolverines are 6-0 and they've managed to crack the Top Ten in the USA Today Poll with impressive victories over Notre Dame and Northwestern.

This weekend, they face their toughest test yet when they invade East Lansing for a showdown with their hated in-state rival, No. 19 Michigan State.

Will the Wolverines finally make it over the dreaded first-half hump with Hoke at the Helm, or are the folks in Ann Arbor destined to suffer through another painful second-half swoon, starting with their fourth straight loss against the Spartans?

The key to a Michigan victory lies in the hands—and feet—of quarterback Denard Robinson.

Through six games, Robinson has electrified crowds and pundits with his play-making ability, throwing for 1,130 yards and 10 touchdowns while rushing for 720 yards and eight more scores.

With the good comes some bad. Often times, Robinson will just chuck the ball up and hope his receiver makes a play on it. This strategy has resulted in a lot of big plays and a lot of scores, but it has also cost Shoelace nine interceptions.

Sparty boasts the best defense that Michigan has seen all season, and their chances at success hinge largely on their ability to hold onto the football.  

If the Wolverine faithful are going to be singing Hail to the Victors on Saturday afternoon, Michigan is going to need a big performance from its defense, too.

Under Hoke and new defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, Michigan has come a long way from the dreadful defenses that patrolled the field under Rodriguez.

Still, they haven’t been immune to giving up the big play (see: Notre Dame), and the Spartans will line up with an experienced and efficient offense, led by senior quarterback Kirk Cousins.

Because they are facing arguably the Big Ten’s best defense, it is going to be imperative for Mattison’s squad to keep Sparty out of the end zone.  

If Robinson brings more good than bad, and if the Michigan defense can keep the Spartans in the teens, the Wolverines could be on track for their first double-digit win season since Lloyd Carr was on the sidelines.

Should the Wolverines falter, fans in Ann Arbor won’t have to wait long for another victory with Purdue next up on the schedule, but they might start to wonder why the college football season can’t be six games instead of 12.