It’s finally here – Michigan Week.
Every season, there is one game labeled on the calendars for the Michigan State football team and its fans as a ‘must-win’ when the Spartans face in-state rival, University of Michigan. This year, the game seems to be losing its luster because of the collapse of the Michigan football program. It is the ultimate role reversal.
This year, Michigan has seemingly nothing to play for, other than hoping to miraculously win out and hope Michigan State and Ohio State completely implode. Then — and only then — they may have a chance to sneak into the Big Ten Championship, but that seems unlikely, if not impossible.
Michigan State, on the other hand, has everything to play for. Every game counts and each win gets them closer to a Big Ten Championship Game, in which a victory would likely secure them a spot in the College Football Playoff. The Spartans are currently ranked No. 8 in the nation coming off a blowout victory at Indiana. They have now won 12 consecutive games against Big Ten opponents.
Michigan is completely falling apart with a current record of 3-4. Talks earlier about having a chance to win the Big Ten are laughable, albeit, mathematically possible. With their remaining schedule, the Wolverines would need to completely turn their season around just to become bowl eligible.
But Michigan can still beat Michigan State
Okay, before everybody falls into hysterics, no, I am not picking Michigan to upset the Spartans. I’m just saying it can happen. It has happened. And I won’t be surprised if it does happen.
We cannot just compare rosters, overall record and rankings to determine a winner.
Here are four examples of when Michigan State upset the Wolverines, all in games where Michigan was expected to win:
1990: Michigan State 28 No. 1 Michigan 27
The unranked Spartans came into Ann Arbor with a 2-2-1 record to face the No. 1 Wolverines. While MSU had a seven-point lead, Michigan scored a touchdown with six seconds left to play in the game and elected to go for two points, and the win, rather than tie. On the two-point attempt, Desmond Howard, wide open, dropped the pass and the Spartans were able to steal the victory in Ann Arbor. Howard was interfered with, being tripped up just before the ball made it to his hands, causing him to fall. The famous no-call might make fans feel better about the Darqueze Dennard vs. Nebraska game, and think it to be a fair trade off.
1993: Michigan State 17 No. 9 Michigan 7
After suffering two consecutive losses to Michigan in 1991 and 1992, the Spartans upset the favored Wolverines at Spartan Stadium. MSU finished the season 6-6, while Michigan finished 8-4 and No. 19 in the coaches poll.
1995: Michigan State 28 No. 7 Michigan 25
The Spartans drove down the field on the Wolverines to score in the final two minutes and take the lead. In the video, Charles Woodson dropped an interception and Derrick Mason was able to come down with the ball, continuing the game-winning drive for MSU. The Spartans finished off the season 6-5-1, while the Wolverines were 9-4 and No. 17 in the AP Top 25 at the end of the 1995 season.
2001: Michigan State 26 No. 6 Michigan 24
Remember “clock-gate”? The video about says it all – this was a spectacular finish. Michigan came into Spartan Stadium undefeated in conference play with hopes of heading to a Rose Bowl. The Wolverines finished 8-4 and No. 20 in the AP poll. Michigan State finished 7-5
After that game in 2001, Michigan beat the Spartans in six straight games. The latter being Mark Dantonio’s first game against Michigan as the head coach of Michigan State. It was the same season Michigan lost to Appalachian State, and the game where UM running back Mike Hart made the infamous “Little Brother” comment.
After that game in 2007, the tables turned completely. The Wolverines were able to get a victory over MSU in Ann Arbor in 2012 (in what I consider the ugliest game in college football history since Michigan won without scoring a single touchdown), but other than that, it has been all Spartans. Each year, Michigan scores fewer and fewer points, it appears.
Michigan State’s home game vs. the Wolverines this Saturday is the trap game to end all trap games. The Spartans have all the pressure in the world on them. Every game is essentially a win-or-go-home scenario – lose a game, kiss a National Championship goodbye. It is the cost of having a winning program in the current era of college football.
The days of an 8-4 season being something to celebrate in East Lansing are over. And if it were a spiraling Michigan team to spoil MSU’s dream season, it would make it all the more painful.
On the brighter side, the Spartans are trending upward. While they remain locked at the No. 8 spot in the AP poll, they jumped to No. 5 in the USA Today Coaches Poll. A big win against Michigan, along with some sure-to-happen upsets in the top seven, will wind up being favorable to MSU as the first ever College Football Playoff Top 25 poll is released on Oct. 28.
While one loss will end the Spartans’ chances of making the elusive top four, that only makes each win more enjoyable for the team and the fans. For MSU, there’s no better way to kick-off the second half of the season with a home game against Michigan.
Bradley Allen is a multimedia journalist for Impact Sports
Photo: David Defever/Impact Sports