Michigan and Michigan State couldn’t be more different. It’s in their DNA as universities really. But, that stark difference really hasn’t been seen much on the field.
Off the field, these two teams treat this game in vastly different manors.
Publicly, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh has tried to play down the bitterness of this game. He’s of the “this is the game on our schedule this week” camp, but does at least acknowledge the fact that this game does matter.
Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio is the second-longest serving head coach in the Big Ten, but his stance on the game with Michigan hasn’t changed. He’s not afraid to call it a rivalry, nor shy away from the importance of this in-state matchup.
“I think coaches know what games are important, they understand,” Dantonio said on Tuesday, via MLive.com. “They can stand up here and say, ‘well, it’s just another football game,’ but it’s not.”
It’s not a surprising stance, given Dantonio is the one who has made this game in to a real rivalry on and off the field.
I mean, there’s the classic, “pride comes before the fall” moment…
…and who can forget his comments on Mike Hart calling Michigan State “little brother?”
Then there’s the fact that Michigan State has taken advantage of Michigan’s downturn on the field. Dantonio backed up any talk so far, owning a 7-3 record against the Wolverines.
Going from after thoughts to College Football Playoff participants speaks volumes, and making the Michigan game in to a true rivalry helped get the Spartans to where they are today.
“I have a great amount of respect for what they’ve accomplished down there – always have had that,” said Dantonio, via MLive.com. “My goal when I came here was to make that a rivalry. I think it’s a rivalry. We’ll leave it at that.”
As for his counterpart…well, Harbaugh is heaping praise on the opponent and downplaying the talk of the bitterness of this game.
If that isn’t the classic rope-a-dope tactic of a head coach, I don’t know what is.
At least one of his players isn’t afraid to talk about the bitterness and importance of this game. Defensive end Maurice Hurst let us know this game’s importance isn’t just on the field, its in the battles for recruiting as well.
“Everything really matters about this one because the recruits care about it, the people in the state care about it a lot and you hear about it for the entire year,” Hurst said. “It is something that brings the best out of people, just because a lot of these guys know each other and a lot of them are from the same area.”
With Michigan again getting all the national attention and Michigan State coming off a brutal 2016 and 2017 offseason, it’s understandable for Dantonio to want to play this game up.
Can his team show that the emphasis on this game can translate back to winning results? Let’s not forget that the Spartans have won three of the last four in this series.
But, this is a vastly different year in the rivalry. There are a lot of young players on both sides of this thing, and that could make for some interesting moments on Saturday night under the Michigan Stadium lights.
It may just be whomever can get the emotional aspect of this game right that will win.
Early Big Ten results remind us why bowl season matters
Don’t tell Iowa, Michigan State and Purdue that their bowl games and wins were meaningless, because they sure weren’t.
Bowl season is usually a cruel, cruel mistress to the Big Ten. Let’s just say hopes always start high and results crash fans of the teams in the conference back down to earth quickly.
There are a myriad of reasons and excuses often given, and some of them are valid (or at least used to be). Examples usually include the fact that 90 percent of the games are played well outside of the Big Ten footprint and the old reliable of huge disparities in caliber of opponents (addressed a bit by the last change in bowl alignment).
So, as the 2017-18 bowl season got underway it was hard to expect much from the Big Ten. After all, the conference teams managed to go just 3-7 last year and only one of those three wins was very meaningful (Wisconsin over Western Michigan in the Cotton Bowl).
Then the games were played and we here in Big Ten country have been reminded just how meaningful bowl season really is.
Purdue not only got to a bowl game, but it won its bowl game against another offense-first team in Arizona. Sophomore quarterback Elijah Sindelar overcame injury and threw for nearly 400 yards (396 to be exact) and four touchdowns, while running back D.J. Knox had 101 yards on 11 carries.
If you believe bowl games don’t matter, just talk to anyone on the Purdue or Arizona sidelines following that game. Going 7-6 in season one under Jeff Brohm was huge, but most importantly it sets new expectations for the program’s floor going forward.
When is the last time there were anything but dreadful expectations surrounding the Purdue football program? If anything, that should tell you just how meaningful bowl games are.
But, it was just Purdue’s three-point win out in the Foster Farms Bowl that showcased the importance of winning so-called meaningless bowl games.
Michigan State not only rebounded from a 3-9 season to go 9-3, but it just beat a fellow top 25 program in Washington State. Sure, you can point to Luke Falk being out of the game, but the Spartans looked like the Spartans that climbed their way to the College Football Playoff just two years ago again.
Dantonio’s crew pounded the ball down the throat of Wazzu’s smaller defensive line and that led to LJ Scott putting up 110 yards on just 18 carries. Meanwhile, the Spartans defense held the Cougars high-scoring offense to just 17 points in the 42-17 win in the Holiday Bowl.
Think MSU will be overlooked by bowl games in the future again?
Even Iowa, who had the most maddening up and down season of any Big Ten team, pulled off a win in the opening game for a Big Ten team this bowl season.
It wasn’t always pretty, but in a matchup of two 7-5 teams, what else would you expect? Most importantly, the game showed that Iowa could win a close game against a quality defense. For a team full of young players at key positions, it’s a win that builds momentum heading in to the offseason.
All three wins set up increase expectations for next season and there’s nothing better than expecting quality football and increased competition within the Big Ten at all.
Of course, the rest of the Big Ten teams in bowl games have some huge matchups to play in.
It’s a nice start to reversing the trend of horrible bowl seasons for the conference, but there’s a lot of work still to be done for the rest of the conference. With three teams in New Year’s Six bowl games, winning them puts the conference at the forefront of the offseason discussion and as much as we hate to admit it — perception is reality these days in the college football world.
That was the lesson we were supposed to take away from the College Football Playoff committee’s selection of Alabama over an actual conference champion, right?
With a snub from the College Football Playoff committee this season, a huge turnaround in bowl game results would mean a whole lot to the reputation – fair or not – of the conference going forward.
Let’s see if the early momentum can be maintained by the big dogs of the B1G.
5 Reasons to watch Michigan State vs. Washington State in the Holiday Bowl
Michigan State may feel jilted by the Florida bowl games, but it has one of the most intriguing bowl matchups in the Big Ten.
It’s the Holiday season, so it’s also a fitting time to talk all things Holiday Bowl too. It also means talking Big Ten in the bowl season and that’s what we’re here to do this week.
Previous Previews: Orange Bowl |
While the conference champion, Ohio State, was passed over for the College Football Playoff, there are still plenty of things to love about bowl season if you’re a fan of a team in or of the conference as a whole.
Up next on our week-long look at the Big Ten in bowl season is my personal favorite non-Rose Bowl game — the Holiday Bowl.
It’s a game featuring the team who finished just behind Ohio State in the East division, and that would be a resurgent Michigan State Spartans squad.
So, why should you be tuning in even if you aren’t the Go Green, Go White type? We’ve got 5 reasons for you.
Wazzu Offense, Meet MSU Defense
Sometimes style-clashes make for really bad bowl games, and then there’s the rare occasion in which those opposing styles make for must-see TV. Such is the case with the Holiday Bowl this year, as the high-flying offense of Washington State takes on the Spartan Dawg defense.
After a season of struggles, Michigan State’s defense returned to its much more normal nasty self in 2017. MSU allowed jus over a touchdown less on defense this season (27.8 to 20.3 points per game), while also finishing second in the Big Ten in rush defense (101.2 yards per game) and gave up just 13 passing touchdowns to 13 interceptions on the season.
Washington State’s offense kept it’s reputation for big numbers alive too. Senior quarterback Luke Falk passed for over 3,500 yards and had 30 touchdowns to 13 interceptions on the season. That was good enough for the No. 2 passing offense in the country this season.
Those 13 interceptions by Michigan State vs. the pass-happy Mike Leach offense? Something will have to give between these two, so who will blink first and open the floodgates to the other? It’s the answer that should have you tuning in .
Two Words: Mike Leach
There simply isn’t a more honest and less self-important head coach in college football than Washington State’s Mike Leach. He’s also perhaps not everyone’s cup of tea.
He’s certainly a thinking-man’s coach.
But, if you are looking for entertainment value, he’s your guy. Whether it is innovating offense or hilariously awkward press conferences, Leach has you covered. Should this game get out of hand one way or the other, Leach should there to keep us all entertained.
Crazy Finishes Are the Norm for Holiday Bowl
If the Spartans and Cougars aren’t your fancy this bowl season, just remember that the Holiday Bowl has a long and storied history of some of the best finishes and craziest moments in bowl game history.
Each of the last three games, not coincidentally featuring the first of the Big Ten tie-in games, have been ones that were won by under a touchdown. Nebraska lost a three-point offensive slugfest in 2014 to USC, Wisconsin got revenge on the Trojans win a 23-21 win the next season and last year saw Minnesota upset these very same Washington State Cougars.
Add in some of the craziest bowl game finishes, comebacks and upsets in history and this one has a reputation for expecting and delivering the unexpected.
With one high-powered offense and a pair of good defenses in the mix, who knows what will happen in San Diego on Dec. 28.
Washington State is No Slouch on Defense Either
Lest you believe only one team can play defense, Wazzu had one of the best defensive groups in the Pac-12 this season. It isn’t all flash on offense and winning crazy high-scoring affairs in Pullman, Wash. these days.
The Cougars allowed just 24.4 points per game in the scoring-happy Pac-12 (which has nothing on the Big 12), while allowing teams to rush for just 146.1 yards per game (4th in the Pac-12) and ranking No. 1 in the conference against the pass (167.4).
Can Lewerke Do It All Against a Top Team Again?
While the Big Ten’s Quarterback of the Year was OSU’s dual-threat J.T. Barrett, one could argue few quarterbacks meant as much to their team as MSU’s Brian Lewerke did in 2017.
Lewerke came out of nowhere as a dual-threat option and a really good one at that. So much so that he led the Spartans in rushing until a late burst by running back L.J. Scott. Lewerke finished the 2017 season with 486 yards and 5 touchdowns on the ground.
But, he wasn’t just a revelation on the ground, as he completed nearly 60 percent of his passes for over 2,500 yards and 17 touchdowns to just 7 interceptions. It was his combination of rushing ability and passing prowess that made him a dangerous quarterback and something the Spartans really haven’t had a quarterback for most of the Dantonio era.
We also saw Lewerke do some of his best work late in the season against two of the better Big Ten defenses in back-to-back games against Northwestern and Penn State. He had a combined 845 yards and 6 touchdowns to just 2 interceptions.
But, he also had a bad day against Michigan, throwing for just 94 yards in the bitter in-state rivalry game.
Overall, Lewerke put this offense on his back for most of the season, but doing that one more time against a really good run defense should be interesting to say the least.
Who: Michigan State (9-3) vs. Washington State (9-3)
When: Dec. 28, 9 p.m. ET (FS1)
Where: SDCCU Stadium, San Diego, CA
Dantonio, Harbaugh jab at each other after bowl game selections
Rivalries have no offseason, and that certainly is the case for Michigan State when it comes to in-state rival Michigan. That’s especially the case when bowl season rolled around in 2017.
That’s because Michigan is headed to Tampa Bay to play in the Outback Bowl, while Michigan State is off the…gasp…horrific site of San Diego for its bowl game.
No. 16 Michigan State is slated to play No. 18 Washington State in easily the best non-New Years Six bowl game the Big Ten has, while Michigan gets South Carolina. Despite the disparity in location and quality of opponent, some felt the Spartans were slighted.
Dantonio was asked if the program felt slighted by not playing on New Year’s Day, and this was his response:
"I don't worry about that. I am just focused on the @HolidayBowlGame. I'll just continue to focus on beating Michigan and let things sort out." – Mark Dantonio when asked if he felt slighted because Michigan in playing Tampa. pic.twitter.com/6sjRzVZE6U
— Rico Beard (@RicoBeard) December 3, 2017
It was a clear dig at the Wolverines, whom the Spartans have owned since Dantonio took over as head coach at Michigan State.
Harbaugh just couldn’t let that go, responding back on Twitter on Monday.
Saw Coach D comments on continuing to "focus" on how "he" can beat Michigan. Congrats on turning around a 3-9 team, plagued with off field issues. Good for BIG to have him back.
— Coach Harbaugh (@CoachJim4UM) December 4, 2017
Backhanded compliment much?
It’s clear these two don’t get along much, because usually these things get settled behind closed doors. Instead, Harbaugh took a very public jab at Dantonio and all the off-field issues that took place over the last year and a half.
Who will get the ultimate last word? Well, this season that was certainly Michigan State. Not only did the Spartans beat Michigan, but they finished second in the East division, while Michigan faltered to an 8-4 finish in the regular season.
If anything, this should fuel an offseason of rivalry fun between these two programs.
Big Ten’s College Football Playoff picture gets clearer in Week 2
After a weekend of near chaos in the Big Ten East, how did the Big Ten stack up in Week 2 of the College Football playoff rankings?
The College Football Playoff picture is getting clearer for the Big Ten…or is it? Week 2 of the CFB Playoff rankings came out on Tuesday night and there were six B1G teams in the mix.
Our Andy Coppens comes at you with reaction to how the Big Ten teams were ranked and the paths forward for said teams. Can Wisconsin control its own destiny? Is the Big Ten East division really out of the playoff picture?
Don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel for more of these reaction videos and plenty of extra talk of all things B1G.