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Posted on Tue, Sep 29, 2009 : 5:20 p.m.

Michigan-Michigan State is big for both football teams, but for the Spartans, it could be their season

By Michael Rothstein

EAST LANSING - The anger came in every syllable flying out of Kirk Cousins’ mouth. The disgust was evident on his face, the frustration obvious in his mannerisms.

Michigan may have multiple rivals and already pocketed a rivalry victory against Notre Dame this year, but an hour northwest, at Michigan State, there is only one rival. And there is only one game.


“This game is personal,” said Cousins, the Michigan State quarterback. “And we need to win it, and we’d better win it.”

However, the reasons of importance for winning this game this season go beyond state pride and bragging rights. For one team, it could save a season. For the other, it could validate an unexpected role as a conference contender.

The roles, though, are not what people thought they might be a month ago. Entering the season, Michigan State was supposed to be the team that had a chance at being undefeated in this game and Michigan was the team with a ton of youth and more questions.

Now, Michigan State is teetering at 1-3, including last-second losses to Notre Dame and Central Michigan.

Nothing has gone right for the Spartans. Neither quarterback - Cousins or Keith Nichol - has established himself as a legitimate starter. The secondary has been questionable. The usually feisty Michigan State defense has forced three turnovers in four games.

And now it faces its biggest rival, a team it hasn’t beaten twice in a row since before 1966-67 and a team that it despises.

Most rivalries have some level of respect to them. Not this one.

“Coach (Mark Dantonio), he told us that if you haven’t played Michigan, within 30 seconds, you’ll realize why we don’t like them,” Michigan State defensive end Trevor Anderson said. “And after about 15 seconds I realized why I didn’t like them, just the total lack of respect they have for our school in general, not just the program, but just in general the lack of respect for us.”

He’s not the only one in East Lansing to feel that way.

“Yeah, I think everybody has a hatred for Michigan,” said Michigan State tackle Rocco Cironi, an Ohio native.

Which is what makes part of this game so intriguing. Michigan has to realize it has a chance to really hurt a rival. Anderson said this game can turn Michigan State’s season around.

It can also send it completely down the toilet. Michigan State appears to be putting so much energy and focus into this game that a loss could be damning. And it’s why this game is much more critical for the Spartans.

Down south, Michigan is reveling in a better season than last year and the Wolverines have confidence for the first time since Lloyd Carr left town.

Michigan is 4-0, in the Top 25 and if the Wolverines can win on the road, they’d answer perhaps their biggest question remaining - what will happen when they leave Michigan Stadium. The answer is not anything Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez can answer in practice. It isn’t something any of the players, especially the freshmen and sophomores, can honestly know.

None of them have been in this situation before, traveling to a rivalry game with the expectation of being the better team, of having the winning record, of having something, potentially, to lose.

“I don’t know if any road game is comfortable,” Rodriguez said. “Maybe if you went to a state and it wasn’t going to be packed and intense or something it would be easier to ease the young guys into it.

“But that’s not the situation we’re in.”

No, Michigan is in the exact opposite scenario. The team it is facing is desperate. It is holding on to Big Ten title hopes, even bowl hopes, with a thinning grasp, one Michigan can severely damage Saturday. How serious is Michigan State taking this?

At one of the campus bookstores in East Lansing, “Beat Michigan” was already painted on the store’s glass window front.

It is Tuesday.

Michael Rothstein covers University of Michigan sports for He can be reached at (734) 623-2558, by e-mail at or follow along on Twitter @mikerothstein.



Wed, Sep 30, 2009 : 12:32 p.m.

The reason that MSU feels like they don't get respect is because they don't and they don't deserve it. The record shows that Michigan is clearly dominate in this series and in the Big Ten. When was Sparty's last conference title, nuff said. I'm a Michigan grad and I have never once claimed that bball power was shifting after one lousy win over MSU. MSU fans can't handle success in football, so when they finally win they can't stop running their mouths...I saw shirts made last year with the MSU-UM score and they said "Holy Toledo, no bowl game." Watch out Sparty, you've awakened the sleeping giant...aka big brother.


Wed, Sep 30, 2009 : 12:19 p.m.

that bookstore paints "beat *insert opposing school here*" on their windows every monday. they've done it for years. no news there.

David Bardallis

Wed, Sep 30, 2009 : 11:36 a.m.

"At one of the campus bookstores in East Lansing, Beat Michigan was already painted on the stores glass window front. It is Tuesday." Dude, that sign's probably been there since January. Welcome to Spartyville. Little Brother needs to be gently put back in his place this year.


Wed, Sep 30, 2009 : 8:51 a.m.

I think this article is on the money. While beating MSU is important and bigger than the average game, I get a lot mre jacked for ND and OSU. The comment about Penn State is good too, because they have eclipsed us in the last couple years with talent level, so they are nipping at the heals of MSU for teams I want Michigan to beat! Let's face it, Michigan has not put themselves in a possition to need this game the way sparty does, but that does not mean we will not match their intensity. UM 34 MSU 31


Wed, Sep 30, 2009 : 8:48 a.m.

The Indians have a better chance of catching the Tigers than msu does on Saturday. King RichRod is obviously 100 times the coach that D'Antonio is.


Wed, Sep 30, 2009 : 6:32 a.m.

Distant third if you believe the voting on the Michigan Football Blog, and almost eclipsed by Penn State...

Macabre Sunset

Tue, Sep 29, 2009 : 10:59 p.m.

I really think this game is the turning point for both teams. For Michigan, its toughest challenge to date, going on the road. A win means certain bowl eligibility (Delaware State is a joke on the schedule) and more momentum heading into what would then be a major Big Ten contest with Iowa. A loss means maybe this team will struggle to win 6 this year. Another season of floundering. It's a huge one. We can't forget that even though MSU is only 1-3, they are favored. Specifically because Michigan hasn't shown anything the last two weeks. I don't know why MSU always feels so disrespected, though. Whatever it takes to get motivated, I guess. Maybe it's in having a primary rival that thinks of it only as a distant second in terms of a rivalry.


Tue, Sep 29, 2009 : 10:12 p.m.

As usual, MSU only has itself to blame for the way it plays. Respect isn't given, it is earned. Cousins is a very good QB who made two bad throws at the end of the Notre Dame game - that's not Michigan's fault. MSU collapsed at Wisconsin - not Michigan's fault. MSU gave up two of the most absurd plays at the end of the CMU game (letting them ADVANCE an onside kick and then giving a second chance for the field goal) - really, Michigan's presence to the south had nothing to do with it. If anger at lack of respect is their motivation then fine, that will last about one quarter...


Tue, Sep 29, 2009 : 9:38 p.m.

Juan, who are you talking to? If it's the writer of the article, give it a rest. People have become anti-sportwriter, no matter what they say, after the whole Freep-RR thing. Let the guy write...I liked the article.


Tue, Sep 29, 2009 : 9:35 p.m.

Is Cousins talking about MSU's big rivalry game with CMU? Seriously, though, I agree with Wolverine81. MSU is like a lot of Big Ten teams: beating UM makes their entire season. MSU is not a very good team at all, but if they beat UM and go 4-8 to UM's 8-4, they will still brag all year. I have a feeling, though, that UM is so sick of MSU bragging that nobody will even think of not taking this game seriously. I expect UM to win this game in the fourth quarter by ten points. After all, those seventy-hour work weeks like they have at MSU take a lot out of a team. While the Barwis-ized UM team is getting stronger in the fourth quarter, MSU's Dantonioed team will lose their "legs," and that will be enough to derail MSU's best effort of the year and turn it into yet another epic fourth quarter fail.

juan Ito

Tue, Sep 29, 2009 : 9:24 p.m.

You seem to know a lot about UM-MSU rivalry for someone who came out of nowhere. Sure the event will be intense, but I don't see where there is any hatred or disrespect. These are fine young men who can handle pressure and keep the rivalry within sensible bounds. They don't need hype from you. Let them settle things on the field and in an honorable way. What's the point of a gunslinger like you coming in and causing trouble. Us guys at Shirley's Diner want you to go back where you came from.


Tue, Sep 29, 2009 : 8:21 p.m.

I'm liking that MSu is putting so much into this. Our guys have 12 months of simmering and smack talk to motivate them. But the mere fact that it has simmered for 12 months means our guys are focusing on the job at hand. Meanwhile over in Sparty-land, the ship is adrift and partially filled of water. Everyone is emotional and worried and thinking this may be their last chance at a season... It'll be loud, and hostile. But if we manage to score early and quickly... Go Blue!


Tue, Sep 29, 2009 : 8:18 p.m.

In Rich we trust. He has brought back the hard work and focus that makes the difference between wins and losses in the 4th quarter. Michigan's fast paced offense and speed will wear down MSU quickly. Michigan's HAS BETTER TALENT WITH BIGGER HEARTS and overtakes MSU 42-23 ALL IN 4 MICHIGAN...GO BLUE!


Tue, Sep 29, 2009 : 7:45 p.m.

This article blows it out of proportion just a bit, but it is a rivalry. So maybe the Sparts are really this desperate. I doubt these young guys realize the environment they are about to walk into, but I think they will handle it just fine.


Tue, Sep 29, 2009 : 7:21 p.m.

"It is Tuesday". Riveting. I took writing 101, this is a stupid closing.


Tue, Sep 29, 2009 : 6:11 p.m.

It's ALWAYS their whole season. No matter how inept they play the rest of their games, to them, beating Michigan is the only thing that matters. That's fine. But, we have bigger fish to fry.

Dave H

Tue, Sep 29, 2009 : 5:56 p.m.

Cousins hasn't "established" himself as a legitimate starter only b/c Dantonio isn't paying attention or is so in love with Nichols' pedigree that he can't see what's right in front of his eyes. As a Michigan fan I'll be glad for every drive that Dantonio lets Nichols lead on Saturday.