MSU will have to corral Dennard Robinson. – Dan Graschuck photo
EAST LANSING – Following the Michigan State University’s 19-16 double-overtime loss to the visiting Iowa Hawkeyes, my thought immediately moved to this weekend’s contest versus in-state rival the University of Michigan Wolverines.
Michigan is coming off a convincing shellacking of Illinois, blasting the Illini 45-0. In the victory the Maize and Blue piled up 527 total yards of offense.
Conversely the inept Spartans offense continued to struggle under first-years starting quarterback Andrew Maxwell. If he cannot generate a better performance than his 12-of-31 for 179 yards with no TDs and an interception effort, Michigan State will lose this game Saturday.
In the State of Michigan football version of the Hatfield and McCoys famous feud, fuel has been thrown on the game in the pass years as the Spartans have elevated it program and the Wolverines look to regain its once lofty status as a football powerhouse.
The winner of the Michigan–Michigan State football rivalry gets to hoist the Paul Bunyan–Governor of Michigan Trophy. The winner retains possession of the trophy until the next year’s game.
The trophy was first presented in 1953 (Michigan State’s first year as a full Big Ten member) and is a four-foot-high wooden statue on a five-foot-high base. The series record for the Paul Bunyan Trophy is 34–23–2 for Michigan.
From 1950 to 1969, MSU went 14–4–2 against the Wolverines. However, after the hiring of Bo Schembechler in 1969, Michigan dominated the series for the next four decades going 30–8 from 1970 to 2007. Michigan holds the longest winning streak at eight (1970–77) and Michigan State holds a current winning streak of four (2008–11) in the Paul Bunyan Trophy series history.
The rivalry has heated up in recent years as the Big Ten has divided into Divisions and now compete in a conference football title game.
MSU played in the first Big Ten Conference title game in 2011 losing a close contest to Wisconsin.
Coming into the game this weekend in Ann Arbor UM is tied with Iowa for the Legends Division lead as both teams have two conference victories, while the Spartans have lot to both Ohio State and Iowa.
The MSU versus UM rivalry appears to have taken a giant leap in the Spartans’ favor five years ago, following a Wolverine 28-24 comeback victory and then UM running back Mike Hart called the Spartans football program his “Little brothers.”
He had good reason as the Wolverines had won six straight games in the series over the Spartans.
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio took Hart’s comments personally saying: “If they want to want to mock us, I’m telling them, it’s not over. They can print all that crap they want all over their locker room. It’s not over. It’ll never be over here. It’s just starting. They need to check themselves sometimes. Let’s just remember pride comes before the fall.”
Since Hart’s comments and Dantonio’s retort, the Spartans have now won four straight against Michigan for the first time since 1959-62, equaling Michigan State’s longest streak in the series.
However, MSU comes into this version of the Hatfield/McCoys limping. Michigan 4-2, 2-0 Big Ten, is now ranked No. 23 and is playing at home against Michigan State (4-3, 1-2).
The Wolverines may have once looked at Ohio State as its biggest rival, because that just flat out dominated MSU and the Buckeyes gave them a better challenge.
However since Dantonio’s arrival he has put the Spartan program back on the national football landscape and he is competing with Michigan for the state’s top recruits, too.
After MSU beat UM last year Dantonio’s comments following the game show how the Spartans view this rivalry.
“It’s a big win, a program win,” Dantonio said. “To do that a fourth straight year says a lot about our players. I said all along I thought this is a winner-take-all type of game. As far as bragging rights and everything that goes with that.”
I think second year Michigan coach Brady Hoke is catching on to the MSU rivalry and he for sure will have his team fired up to stopped the Spartans quest for five consecutive victories.
Leland Stein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @LelandSteinIII