Previously: Notre Dame
I think we can all lay off the "Little Brother" nickname for a while…which was admittedly pretty dumb and juvenile to begin with.
Until the Wolverines can successfully cross the goal line with the football, which hasn't happened in two years…Michigan fans have no business considering their fellow Michigan B1G school a second-class citizen.
In 2013, Michigan State saw the top of the mountain, and it was good. But now what? While I'm not ready to cast Michigan State as a premier college football program because they beat Ohio State for the league title and won the Rose Bowl, which I'll admit is impressive, its staying on top that makes you great.
This rivalry, more than Notre Dame or Ohio State more accurately defines the current state of the Michigan Football program. Lloyd Carr enjoyed tremendous success against Michigan State, going 10-3 in his career…which helped assuage the bitterness of being owned by Jim Tressell. But RichRod's 0-3 record and Hoke's 1-2 record are a tougher pill to swallow considering they both match their records against the Scarlet and Gray.
Growing up just south of the border in Toledo, I didn't have an appropriate appreciation for the Michigan State rivalry. For me, it was all about the Buckeyes. So when I relocated north into friendly territory, I was shocked how deep the hatred from this rivalry went. And in recent years, with Michigan struggling and Michigan State cashing in on those struggles more than any other team, the rivalry has increased tenfold.
Factoid: Since 1969, Michigan has entered this game unranked only 5 times (80, 82, 98, 05, 08), while the Spartans have only entered this contest ranked 10 times (75, 79, 89, 97, 99, 03, 05, 10, 11, 13). Michigan leads the all-time series 68-33-5.
A dominating, punishing defense has been the cornerstone of the Spartan resurgence. Mark Dantonio has beaten Michigan 5 out of the last 6 years based on defensive game plans that have neutralized both good and not good Michigan offenses. He knows that if he can focus his team on beating the Wolverines, then greatness will soon follow…which it certainly did a season ago. A lesson he learned as OSU's defensive coordinator under Tressel from 2001-03.
It doesn't help matters that thanks to Rutgers and Maryland jumping into the Big Ten and reshuffling the league schedules, Michigan has to travel to East Lansing for a second straight season this fall – a venue in which Michigan hasn't won since 2007.
For Brady Hoke, the emphasis to beat Ohio State is one thing, but he can't just rest on that as being his ultimate focus. If you can't win your home state, then what difference does beating Ohio State make? The 2013 schedule is stacked with big road games against big division opponents, which will test this Michigan team. As long as Dantonio is around, you can guarantee Michigan State being in the championship conversation every season.