Friday, October 2, 2009

Final Four Friday: Biggest Football Rivalry

It's Michigan week, universally regarded as the biggest weekend for Spartan football each and every year. Or is it?

Michigan State plays a total of four trophy games in football, so using those as a jumping off point, here is the final four of MSU football rivalries:


Everyone loves a winner, right? Well, the Old Brass Spittoon is the only trophy game MSU has won more times than it has lost. In fact, MSU holds a 40-12-1 series edge over the Hoosiers, including wins in the last two. The three biggest things holding back this game? 1) Indiana is usually terrible. 2) Indiana, while close to East Lansing, is arguably 11th on the list of Big Ten must-visit venues, and a good away experience is critical for developing rivalries. 3) The game almost never matters in the context of big-time bowl games.


But for a few exceptions, Michigan has owned this series, both historically and recently. Sure, we had a good run under Nick Saban, and Bobby Williams won in 2001 (thanks in large part to Jeff Smoker, T.J. Duckett and - if Michigan fans are to be believed - Spartan Bob). Since then, however, we've only won one - last year's contest in Ann Arbor.

That said, Spartan fans don't get up for any game like they do for Michigan. It's a singular story line that dominates entire seasons. Last year, despite the run to the Capital One Bowl, was all about whether MSU would get back at Michigan after Mike Hart's "Little Brother" comments. Bobby Williams got fired following a blowout loss. It's the only game on the schedule that carries that kind of weight.

Notre Dame

This one comes close, however. And, it has the added benefit of actually being an annually competitive series.

Notre Dame has always been a big game, but it seems like the rivalry has managed to grow in recent years. The planting of the Spartan flag at Notre Dame Stadium, Charlie Weis' "guarantee", the phantom punch that Weis whined about, all of it. And that's just the last few years. Add in the Game of the Century and you've got a great rivalry tradition that's as good now as it ever was.

Penn State

The Land Grant Trophy is the largest of all of MSU's contested trophies, a metaphorical sign of how big the two schools hope the rivalry becomes. There was some talk last year that this end-of-season game might supplant Michigan-Ohio State as the premier closing game, however MSU has never really held up its end of the bargain by being good enough on a consistent basis.

As is, this is a rivalry most marked by how polite it is. I mean, Penn State fans gave M. Peter McPherson a standing ovation at Beaver Stadium when he retired as MSU's president. Penn State doesn't hate MSU, if anything they barely care. Sure, there's that whole "who was the first land grant university" thing, but it's hard to get really energized about a timing question from 1855.

And the winner is... Michigan.

Notre Dame is a huge rivalry, but nothing comes close to Michigan. Nothing.

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