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Michigan, Michigan State embracing importance of in-state rivalry

Michigan and Michigan State at least agree that this rivalry game is an important one.

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.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He’s a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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