Michigan vs. Michigan State: Giant Rivalry

The Biggest Rivalry in the Big Ten, if not in all of college football, takes place at Spartan Stadium this year.

The Biggest Rivalry in the Big Ten, if not in all of college football, takes place at Spartan Stadium this year.

The Michigan vs. Michigan State rivalry. It is one of the most celebrated rivalries in college football. it is  right up there with Harvard vs. Yale and Army vs. Navy. It dates back to their first meeting in 1898. But, to many fans, including myself, it didn’t really begin until 1953, when Michigan State joined the Big Ten. It was then that Governor G. Mennen Williams gave Michigan State the 4 foot tall statue of Paul Bunyan to commemorate the occasion. Depending on which beginning you choose, Michigan leads the rivalry 68-32-5 or 35-23-2; I choose the latter, because college football rivalries – the GOOD ones – always have something at stake, like the Little Brown Jug or Paul Bunyan.

I swear among my friends and family, I am a minority – I am part of the Spartan Nation. My parents cheer for Michigan State, only because my younger brother attended there as the Class of 2013! My son likes State, too. But, according to my wife, since he is only 5, it doesn’t count, yet. The rest of my family is made up of Michigan fans. My wife and both daughters are, though the youngest is only 5, as well. So, I say she doesn’t count either. But, my wife playfully disagrees. Most of my in-laws are Michigan fans, too. My mother-in-law attended U-of-M. My friends are the same way; most are Michigan fans. Guru and I talk smack all week leading up to the game.

Except for this year; a week before the game, Guru conceded that “We might lose to you guys this year. We don’t have a great team.”

Those are powerful words, especially coming from one who bleeds Maize and Blue. It got me thinking how can Michigan be ranked but Michigan State was not, until this week? Oh wait; it’s that computer the BCS uses and its fancy algorithms; how it takes into account difficulty of schedule, but does not recognize human emotion and errors into its rankings. I liked the old AP and USA Today/Coaches polls better and even those were flawed. Perhaps that system used too much human emotion and error, perhaps too much partisanship.

That led into thinking about how a National Champion is decided, which led to that article. But that is there, this space is reserved for a preview of THE BIG GAME in East Lansing this weekend.

After hearing Guru’s words, I decided to breakdown the two teams, bit by bit, and compare them, statistically, which is my specialty. Then, and only then, can I come up with a non-partisan prediction that is fair and balanced. So, here is my unbiased breakdown and prediction, something inspired by the Guru himself.


Devin Gardner is a dual threat for Michigan.

Devin Gardner is a dual threat for Michigan.


U-M quarterback Devin Gardner is a dual threat. With 520 yards rushing, he is second on the Wolverines roster and only 55 yards behind leader Fitzgerald Toussaint. He has one flaw, though; he relies on mainly one receiving target – Jeremy Gallon, whose 831 yards receiving leads the team over Devin Funchess’ 492 yards. No other Wolverine has caught over 99 yards this season total.

On the flip side, Michigan State field general Connor Cook uses five targets regularly – Macgarrett Kings Jr., Bennie Fowler, Tony Lippett, Aaron Burbridge, and Keith Mumphery. Kings Jr. and Fowler get a majority of the passes, but each of the others has over 150 yards receiving this year, making them viable targets.

Edge: Though they have a better ranking for passing (42nd to 106th) and average 82 more receiving yards a game, Devin Gardner does not look for other receivers often during the game.  Against the Spartans defense, he will be forced to spread the offense for the WOLVERINES to win.


Michigan State is ranked 37th in rushing and with good reason. Their offensive line makes great holes open up for top runner Jeremy Langford who has 655 yards rushing this season. They also have Nick Hill and Delton Williams. Williams has a team leading 7.2 yards per carry.

Michigan has the dual threat in Gardner and Toussaint, both over the 500 yard mark. Yet, the team is a pass heavy squad. I do not understand this logic, which has made the Wolverines ranked 49th in the nation in rushing with 183.9 yards per game. That is only 13 yards less than the Spartans, though.

Edge: The Spartans are ranked better. Michigan is facing the top-ranked defense, but has the dual-threat going. It’s a tough call here. I think this is a DRAW.

The Michigan State defense is the #1 ranked defense in the nation.

The Michigan State defense is the #1 ranked defense in the nation.


The Spartans entered Saturday’s game against the Illini with the nation’s top-ranked defense, averaging 228 yards per game against. They made that look bad as they locked the Illini down to 128 yards, 25 of which were rushing. They have allowed 3 points in the last two games with a 14-0 shutout of Purdue followed by the 42-3 slaughter of the hapless Illini. The Illini do not even deserve to be in the Big Ten anymore surmassing 17 straight conference losses. Before that contest, the Illini had averaged 35.3 points per game.

U-M has allowed 26.7 points per game, 14 more than Michigan State. They allow about the same as the Spartans score per game, which is not good for Wolverines fans.

Edge: Sorry Wolverines fans, but the SPARTANS defense is clearly better.

After another victory, the Spartans lead their fans in the school fight song. Will that be the case Saturday?

After another victory, the Spartans lead their fans in the school fight song. Will that be the case Saturday?

Final Prediction

Michigan vs. Michigan State:

Everything is pretty even between the two teams, as usual as of late. Michigan is ranked #21, State is ranked #22. U-M has about 100 more total yards, MSU has 2 more sacks. U-M has 2 more interceptions, MSU has 19 more first downs. They are dead even in third down conversions. The only loss by Michigan was in Happy Valley in 4 OT to an unranked Penn State.  The only loss by Michigan State was a four-point loss to #22 Notre Dame, whom the Wolverines beat when they were ranked 14th. The big difference maker will be the Spartans defense. It has dominated all season. It will be close, like recent years.

FINAL SCORE: MICHIGAN STATE 28, MICHIGAN 27. Paul Bunyan comes home.

For more #MCSJ  opinions about this rivalry, please see our past articles:

Dear Little Brother

Dear Big Brother

You can also catch me on FB @ MotorCitySportsSwami !

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