When it was time to write the Michigan State "Keeping the Enemy Close" we could think of only one guy for the job, Maize n Brew Dave from SB Nation's outstanding Michigan Blog, Maize n Brew. Dave's a veteran of these previews, so we figured he'd be up for another round this year. He didn't disappoint. For those of you who offend easily, you should probably be watching the O Network rather than reading this. We asked him to write a rivalry piece, not Kumbaya. Enjoy.
Fan bases tend to attract the types of celebrity supporters they deserve. The Kentucky Wildcats have Ashley Judd. Florida has Erin Andrews. USC has Snoop Dogg. Michigan has Russell Crowe. All are relatively famous and all are fairly representative of their student body.
Michigan State has The Situation.
Real life writes comedy that we only dream of in our deepest REM sleep. What's even better (and much to the chagrin of reasonable Michigan State fans like The Only Colors), is that Michigan State's AD actually sought to PUBLICIZE this. Hey everyone! Chlamydia is a State fan and he'll be in our stands all season! Actually. We knew that a long time ago. Just nice to get some confirmation.
When Graham asked me to do a piece on Michigan State for OTE's MSU Week 2011, he attached a couple of questions to stir my competitive juices. The questions were pretty straight forward:
"[What] emotions are you feeling right now toward MSU? What's your state of mind? What do you foresee in the future? Do you hate State more or less now than three years ago?"
When I read them I kind of chuckled. What emotions am I feeling about them? I dunno. Is indifference an emotion? Is itching an emotion?
To Michigan fans and alumni, Michigan State will always be Michigan State. A perpetual case of jock itch we're forced to deal with once a season, no matter how many times we kill it off with Micatin. Whether or not the Spartans have won three games in a row is immaterial to how Michigan fans view their sister college to the northwest. To us, with a few exceptions, they will always be headband-sporting, white-wifebeater-wearing, spikey-haired, grain-alcohol-guzzling frat boyz with obnoxious, over-served co-eds, who submit things like this in support of their school.
Mom and Dad must be so proud. Nice Christmas wreath on St. Patrick's Day, jackass.
Turning to football, to a Michigan fan, Michigan State isn't really part of our collective consciousness leading into a normal football season. It's just one of those games we're supposed to win against an over-hyped, poorly coached team led onto the field by someone who was in jail a week before kickoff. It's like playing an SEC team, just without the talent or coaching.
Admittedly, this same group of overachieving underachievers has gotten the best of Michigan the last three years. So, naturally, you'd think that would change our perception.
No. Not even a little bit.
Most Michigan fans would consider Michigan State to be a mosquito bite that needs to be scratched. The last three years have been uncomfortable, as the bites we've received have been in a very public yet personal place, but it's something that with time will heal and everything return to normal. Maybe at worst, Michigan fans would consider it a dog bite on the ass, or a recurring bout of the chicken pox. You get a little scar, things heal, and you either have animal control put the dog down or you get a little calamine lotion for the lumps. Either way you're back to normal pretty quickly. It's not something you're overly concerned with.
The funniest thing about Michigan State's recent three game winning streak is that people think that it has, in some way, altered the reality of the series. I'll just tell you now, no, no it hasn't. What has changed is Michigan's head coach. Michigan has gone from a coach that had no clue how to recruit the State of Michigan or a Big Ten defense, to a coach that lives and breathes both. The results are what Michigan fans expect them to be and what Michigan State fans silently know in the their little hearts to be the norm, Michigan will always get the best talent in the state of Michigan. Period.
You don't have to take my word for it. You can ask the top players in the state, they're all going to Michigan. And they'll be glad to tell you that. Right now Michigan has 7 in-state commitments to Michigan State's two. For what it's worth, neither of MSU's in-state commits were offered by Michigan. All of Michigan's in-state commits were offered by MSU.
So that brings us to last year and this year. In 2010 Michigan State seemed to capture lightning in a bottle. The Spartans finished 11-2, tied for the Big Ten Crown, behind a veteran offensive line and not having to face Ohio State. The result was getting curb stomped by Alabama to the tune of 42 points in a game that was somehow less competitive than the score actually suggests. And that was with their best team in two decades.
Turning the calendar forward, Michigan State returns most of its potent play makers but has one, slight, glaring problem. It's offensive line. Three new starters. Ask Clemson how well a loaded set of play makers works out if no one can keep their quarterback upright. On defense there's a similar problem. Play maker Greg Jones is gone, as are four of his starting colleagues in the linebacking corps and secondary. While State should be good this year, they won't be 11-2. They also won't win surprise games like Notre Dame or Wisconsin. The schedule also toughens up. Now they get Ohio State every year. Have fun with that.
Finally, this brings us to Michigan. State has won the last three in the series. They actually won last year's match-up in convincing fashion, a fashion so convincing that many perceive it as a turning point in Rodriguez' season. But the second to last word of that sentence is the key. Rodriguez. A man who hiredto be his defensive coordinator and then made him install a defensive system he didn't know how to run.
In contrast to last season, Michigan returns 17 starters on both sides of the ball and doesn't return the defense adverse Rodriguez. They have a veteran offensive line and 9 returning starters on defense. As an added bonus, Michigan infuses this veteran defense with arguably the best defensive coordinator in the Big Ten, or the NFL for that matter, in Greg Mattison. Oh. And Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton won't be there to miss tackles anymore either.
Things will return to normal this year. The itch will be scratched and things will return to their normal place in the universe. Michigan will hang out with movie stars and the powerful men and women of the world. And Michigan State will hang with The Situation.