By Bryan MacKenzie
I must first apologize to Counterpunt. You see, every week we email each other about the coming game, and then we retire to our separate hemispheres to mash our respective keyboards. We seek to achieve a balance of approaches to give you, the reader, a full picture of the day’s events… and to avoid the jinx that would certainly accompany a unanimous declaration of impending triumph. And this week, I expressed a pessimism about the upcoming game. You see, Mark Dantonio has this voodoo magic, and Michigan State cares more and always finds a way, and the weather is going to be bad, and chips, and shoulders and, and, and.
Enough of that.
The reason Michigan State has beaten Michigan 8 out of the last 10 is straightforward. It’s the same reason Michigan beat Michigan State in 10 of the 12 matchups before that. It’s the same reason most streaks go the way they go: the better team usually wins.
Post stake ergo propter stake
Since the beginning of the S&P+ era (2005), the team that finished the season with the better S&P+ rating has won the Michigan/Michigan State game 10 times. The three exceptions:
- 2011: MSU beat Michigan in the Trash Tornado game.
- 2012: Michigan beat MSU in the 12-10 Didn’t Even Score a Touchdown game.
- 2015: MSU beat Michigan on… that.
In none of those seasons was the ‘upset’ loser ranked more than 11 spots higher than the winner. And in the last 20 years, the team that ends the season with the better record has only lost this game twice: 2011 and the Spartan Bob 2001 game.
So. The better team wins. The exceptions are close and generally fluky. And in years where one team is significantly better than the other (2006, 2008, 2014, 2016), the better team has won somewhere between comfortably and crushingly.
I suppose that’s both the good news and the bad news. The bad news is that, yes, Michigan State was a better football team than Michigan for much of the last decade. That isn’t a great thing to admit, especially following on the heels of a similar level of dominance for the dozen years before that. And because so many of those years Michigan fans entered the game with high hopes for the season, it’s tough to retroactively say, “yeah, they weren’t as good as we thought.”
[After THE JUMP: But are we as good as we think?]
The good news, though, is that the petty stuff doesn’t actually matter that much. If you really don’t think the 13-1 Rose Bowl champion Michigan State team was going to throttle that 7-6 Brady Hoke team whether or not Joe Bolden stuck a railroad spike in the turf, you’re as insane as anyone who thinks Michigan beat the unholy bejeezus out of MSU in 2016 primarily because Jim Harbaugh “understands the rivalry,” or anyone who doesn’t think that Michigan State’s sudden dominance of the series starting in 2008 has at least something to do with Michigan becoming bad at football at that exact time. The key to this game has been, and remains, “be better at football.
In a way, that is freeing. This game won’t come down to whether you or I or a third string longsnapper said too much, or didn’t say enough, or didn’t care enough, or got too caught up in the rivalry, or over- or under-reticulated the splines. If your Lucky Shirt is dirty, you can wear your Backup Lucky Shirt without consequences. If you have to pee during the game, you don’t have to worry about killing the team’s momentum. Speak to your Spartan friends in whatever tone you see fit (though, still remember to use small words; that part is unrelated to the rivalry stuff).
But while this game will not make you answer three riddles before you cross the bridge, it will answer some things about each team. And in a way, that is scarier. It’s a fun defense mechanism to solely blame destiny or weather or a pact with the devil made by a certain grumpy coach with a creative understanding of the phrase “zero tolerance.” Because that way, you don’t have to face the fact that a loss says as much about your own team as it does the opponent. In the past, Michigan fans learned too late that our beloved team was not as good as we had hoped or expected. And Michigan State certainly helped reveal it to us. But they only chipped away the rough edges; the statue was there all along.
Enough cowering. Enough checking the forecast. Enough worrying about bulletin board material and the exact volume of #RESPEKT to be titrated into the solution. The last decade has taught lessons, but they are not the lessons we’ve gleaned. What’s past is prologue; what to come, in Shea Patterson’s discharge.
Michigan is better. Michigan wins. Michigan 24, Michigan State 10
By Internet Raj
Crain’s New York Business released its famed “40 Under 40” Class of 2018 on March 26, 2018. By virtue of alphabetical order (but, equally plausibly, by existentially-enigmatic-power-pose order), Michael Barbaro is the very first entry. On that fateful day, Barbaro, host and managing editor of The New York Times’ insanely popular podcast, The Daily, strolled into the Crain’s office. The exact details of what happened next is largely unknown, but what cannot be disputed is that the end result, a photograph that defies description, has been etched into the annals of history:
Forget our staple running play, Barbaro is the original “Down G.”
Barbaro’s pose is a case study in internal contradiction. On the one hand, the esteemed journalist’s face is steeped in existential dread, his eyes haunted by staring too long into the Void, his mouth contorted into an expression that betrays a look not of horror but one of resigned acceptance of an inexorable dread. From the neck down, however, Barbaro exudes a level of braggadocio and swag that is simultaneously breathtaking in its audacity and entirely inappropriate for a Crain’s 40 Under 40 photoshoot.
Barbaro’s enigmatic posture is a modern-day Mona Lisa’s smile, and I cannot think of a more apt comparison for my own emotions heading into today’s game against Michigan State. From the neck down, I’m confident—cocky even—at the prospects of a surging Michigan team coming into East Lansing and laying a brutal and cathartic beatdown on the Spartans. From the neck up, though, I’m subsumed in a silent terror, my eyes a glassy reflection of a traumatic decade of futility against our in-state rivals.
Siri please re-simulate this decade.
I don’t care what my head thinks, though. I’m going with my heart. And my heart knows that Michigan has the better offense, the better defense, the better special teams, the better moral compass, the better coach, and the better damn team. And I say this all with one hand gingerly caressing my cocked hip, my other hand supporting my subtly tilted head, and my chest puffed out in a Barbaro-fueled swag.
Of course, this is MSU, and there will always be, and always should be, cause for some measure of trepidation. Mark Dantonio’s penchant for cover-ups isn’t limited to off-the-field criminal activity—he’s equally well-known for hiding his best plays until the Michigan game. Year after year, MSU’s offense comes into this week with the narrative cohesion of a 1,000-word Graham Couch thinkpiece only for Dantonio to unleash a Charlie Kaufman tour-de-force of a scripted drive to land a first punch square in the Wolverine’s jaw. Dantonio’s unique ability to rise to the occasion for this rivalry game has rightfully earned him begrudging nicknames from Michigan fans, such as “Evil Wizard.” In fact, that was one of the driving factors behind Jon Reschke’s return to the team this off-season—the fourth-year linebacker just loves strapping on headgear and taking orders from Evil Wizards.
Sometimes, though, the Spartans will also land a non-metaphorical first punch against the Wolverines
Fortunately, there are a few intangibles swinging in the Wolverines’ favor. Rumors are swirling about a potential return for Michigan’s game-changing wide receiver, Tarik Black. Michigan’s redshirt freshman receiver continues to rehab his fractured right foot but, in a fortuitous twist of fate, team doctors stumbled across a perfect-match ankle donor right here in East Lansing:
The back of Ward’s driver’s license indicated that he is not only donating his ankles, but also his soul, both of which were tragically snatched from him on this fateful play.
Black’s potential return notwithstanding, there’s a Barbaro-esque air of confidence and swagger about this Michigan offense that I have not seen in years. Shea Patterson is lacing surgical strikes against opponents, Karan Higdon is running wild, and the offensive line is bullying its opponents in a way that would make John Engler proud. Meanwhile, the defense has been stifling and, scripted drives aside, I can’t image MSU moving the ball with any sort of consistency on this Don Brown unit. Sure, sweeps have been startlingly effective for MSU, both to conceal systemic sexual assault under the rug and as an edge running play to attack aggressive defenses, but at the end of the day this is Don Brown versus Dave Warner. I know who my money is on.
This isn’t 2016. The Spartans won’t be defeated with dignity this year. Michigan is the better team and they are going to show it, with force, today in East Lansing. Get out your calculators nerds, because you’re going to need scientific notation to tally up this score.
Michigan 1.67 E 13, MSU 0