Within Inches: The Michigan - MSU Rivalry

Within Inches: The Michigan - MSU Rivalry

Football

Within Inches: The Michigan - MSU Rivalry


A new feature, Within Inches, that takes a look at something slightly off-topic, be it behind-the-scenes or whatever miscellaneous Michigan-related thing that doesn’t fit anywhere else.


Within Inches: The Michigan – MSU Rivalry

The rivalry between Michigan and Michigan State is bigger than ever.

Which is funny, given all the talk — from one particular side — that rivalries don’t exist if they’re one-sided. Ironically, that argument is usually used in mention of the Michigan – Ohio State rivalry.

Let’s face facts first: Michigan hasn’t held up its end of the bargain in the last decade-plus when it comes to non-Notre Dame rivalries. But that doesn’t tell the whole story.

Personally, when I look at Michigan’s recent history, I basically throw out the Rich Rodriguez years (sorry @MGoJen). The Wolverines had a historically bad year in 2008, had a little more success in 2009, and just a little more in 2010. In those three years, Michigan lost all six games it played against MSU and OSU, yet won two of three against Notre Dame. That’s 2 of 9 in a stretch that only saw the maize and blue win 15 games total. In three years. Out of 37 games.

Michigan got a lot better, of course, in the early years of Brady Hoke, but still weren’t competitive with its rivals. Hoke beat a decimated Ohio State team in 2011, one that was in absolute turmoil after the tattoogate scandal. He beat a meh Michigan State team in 2012. And beat Notre Dame twice in four tries. It was a little better, but Michigan still wasn’t the Michigan of old.

It wasn’t the team that absolutely owned the Buckeyes through the Jon Cooper years, or regularly beat Michigan State, with an occasional loss every few seasons. The Wolverines, in the last decade, struggled against teams like (or even lost to) Illinois, Akron, Toledo and UConn. During the RichRod years, the maize and blue lost to just about everybody, and the struggles continued under Hoke.

Then, enter Jim Harbaugh, and everything was saved. Except it wasn’t.

Programs aren’t built in a day, a year, or even three years, yet, here we are, seeing questions about the sometimes prolific head coach’s viability in Ann Arbor.

It’s nonsense.

Tell me who would be a better fit in Ann Arbor. Who would understand the culture that exists at the University of Michigan, be able to recruit at the level he’s been able to and at least get Michigan back to the place where it should be — beating the teams it should on a regular basis? Not in all cases, but in most, it takes time to build a program. Ask Mark Dantonio. It took him four years to win the Big Ten — though, he did beat Michigan in his second, third and fourth years while building to that point.

And only now are we getting to the point where players that Harbaugh recruited are upperclassmen. This should be the start of what we all expected.

But, back to the MSU rivalry.

Yes, Harbaugh only has one win over the Spartans, and he should have two. But, in my opinion, 2015 wasn’t his fault. It takes more than one play to win or lose a game, but that freak play at the end was the type of gaffe you only see once in a lifetime. I’m not going to pile on to Blake O’Neill — but if that play goes off as it would 99 out of 100 times, we’re talking about how Harbaugh has at least a 2-1 record over MSU.

But that’s not the case, and that one play goes down in history. I need to acknowledge that Dantonio continues to do an amazing job in East Lansing, and has built a perennial just-short-of-a powerhouse there. It really is remarkable. However, in my opinion, Michigan’s losses in the last three seasons have had more to do with Michigan than MSU.

You look at the game aforementioned, or last year’s game, when MSU’s game plan was just superior to that of Michigan’s, and it’s easy to wonder what if had Michigan held onto the ball, or chose not to throw in a monsoon that all but ruined all three of my cameras. If it’s raining that hard, maybe don’t start trying to sling the ball when Karan Higdon is running for six-yards-per-carry. Of course, MSU capitalized, and it deserves all the credit. But Michigan also failed in that regard, and that also deserves mention.

Now, the above is not why I’m writing this. I’m writing this because of the media — of which, of course, I’m a part of. But I’m looking at the other side of the aisle.

My colleague in the USA Today Sports Media Group, Crowley Sullivan, asked a question of Jim Harbaugh that was — curious, at best, and smarmy, at worst. I hadn’t met him until after the question, and by my account, he’s a really good dude. But, of course, Michigan fans aren’t going to see things that way, and I fully understand why they wouldn’t.

If you didn’t see the exchange, check it here, as chronicled by former Michigan player John Due:

On the base, the question is fine, in that, it’s worthy to ask about Harbaugh’s expectations going forward in the rivalry games, given his record. It’s been asked before. Several times. But it’s the way he asked it that has fans and media types, alike, shaking their heads.

To me, more egregious was a question that came the next day, to Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer. The question was about the MSU-OSU rivalry, yet, for some reason, there was a dig at Michigan in there.

Why add all that fodder at the beginning, other than to just take a dig at Michigan? I’ve seen people on Twitter say ‘to add context,’ but, honestly, it adds very little. Since Dantonio arrived in East Lansing, he’s beaten Ohio State three times in eleven tries. Michigan’s record is obviously more moribund in that span, at 1-10, but there were three years when Michigan lost The Game when the Wolverines weren’t competitive with anybody, and there’s only been one game since (2015), where Michigan was run off the field by the Buckeyes. There isn’t a significant gap when it comes to the two in-state programs’ record vs. Ohio State.

Then you add stuff like this that happened after Dantonio got done speaking on Tuesday:

What I’m getting at here is the mindset.

There’s much protest to the 2007-coined “little brother” moniker, and that debate has continued to rage on to this day, brought back up after a shot a Michigan was taken by a Spartans fan Twitter account that was replied to by Devin Bush Jr.

I was driving home the one night from Chris Evans’ 7-on-7, and listening to 97.1 The Ticket, and my friend Dan Leach was talking about why the “little brother” talk has to die, due to the lopsided win-loss record Michigan has against MSU in the past 11 years. Yes, Michigan has only beaten Dantonio three times total in that span, but yet, that “little brother” mindset continues.

Now, I’m not saying that Michigan fans should be out puffing their chests out, reciting the phrase at rote, because the on-field results haven’t supported that type of behavior. But, simultaneously, for as much I’ve heard the Spartans faithful bandy about, claiming #disrespekt, you can’t claim disrespect with such a winning record over your rival and then act disrespectfully.

While I personally shake my head at all of this, I still have to say: this is why this rivalry is bigger than ever. No matter how bad Michigan has been in this stretch against MSU, it’s still a program on the mend, on the rebuild, on the up-and-up. There are expectations in Ann Arbor that haven’t been met yet, but it’s still premature (by a long shot) to call it anywhere close to a failure. Despite 2016’s 3-9 outing, Michigan State has proven that it can (and will) still field a good team while the current staff is in East Lansing. Michigan still has a lot to prove across the board.

So, for now, I say, take things in stride. If you want to throw out your “little brother,” “Can’t read, can’t write,” type things, etc. have at it. But know that it will be countered by the one fact that matters, the scoreboard, and a bunch of tomfoolery that has nothing to do with anything. And, on the other end, until the vocal component of the MSU faithful (assuredly not representative of the whole, just like Michigan fans that call into 97.1 aren’t indicative of the broader Wolverines fanbase), and especially the lapdog media in East Lansing, discontinue the antics, you can’t fault Michigan fans from utilizing the digs where they can.

If nothing else, despite the record, it’s been a fun ride between these two teams in the past decade. Let’s hope the animosity — in a fun way — continues.

Contact/Follow @WolverinesWire@isaiahhole

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