It's all on the line; the Rose Bowl berth, the conference championship, a possible BCS Bowl, the top-ten national ranking and perhaps an outside shot at a national championship. But much more importantly at stake are state bragging rights and yes Spartans fans.....revenge.
You don't think so? Just ask the Wolverines how they were feeling when they hosted the Spartans last year and put a 49-3 no mercy spanking on the Green and White.
Michigan was seething following the events of their last-second loss to Michigan State in East Lansing in 2001. In that contest, Michigan State was on the march for a game-winnning touchdown, but when Spartans quarterback Jeff Smoker tried to get the team up to the line of scrimmage to spike the ball it appeared time ran out. Or did it?
Smoker got the ball spiked as time seemingly stood still. Michigan football annoucer Frank Beckman counted down "three, two, one, one, one." as Smoker spiked it.
On the next play Smoker found T.J. Duckett in the end zone for the winning 26-24 score. Michigan coach Lloyd Carr was furious after the game and while he would not criticize the officials he continually stated "our kids deserved better."
They called it, "clockgate."
So when Michigan intercepted a Damon Dowdell pass with less than three minutes remaining and up 42-3 in last year's contest in Ann Arbor, Carr did something completely out of character, he ran up the score on Spartans head coach Bobby Williams.
Carr allowed Michigan to call a pass play instead of running out the clock.
The play culminated in a 5-yard TD pass to tight end Tim Brackens, making it a 49-3 final score. The two coaches avoided the traditional post-game handshake. Michigan State plummeted to a 4-8 finish and Williams was fired before the season ended, due in large part to the embarassing circumstances of the Michigan loss.
Carr, likely feeling some remorse, spoke out against Williams' firing.
Too little too late.
The Spartans were ill-prepared to put up a fight against the Wolverines that day. Starter Jeff Smoker had been suspended for substance abuse violations and was entering a rehabilition center. Captain Dujuan Moss had been dismissed from the team for numerous unspecified team rule violations and defensive end Greg Taplin was also serving a suspension for disciplinary reasons.
What a difference a year and a new coach have made.
The Spartans ought to watch film of last year's contest and come out ready to repay the favor on Michigan. Smoker has a potent offensive attack and the Spartans run defense remains in the top five in the nation.
When the teams have been this close in recent memory, the 1999 game in East Lansing most resembles the situation today. Spartans coach Nick Saban in his finest moment on campus, had his 5-0 Spartan team hosting a UM team that was also 5-0, but it was the Spartans that dominated the game and came out with a hard fought 34-31 win against a late charging Wolverine squad.
In that contest, quarterback Bill Burke (now the MSU radio color analyst) teamed with wide receiver Plaxico Burress on a record setting performance. Burke went 21-of-36 for a record setting 400 yards and two touchdowns, a single game passing mark that still stands. Burress, for his part, torched the Michigan secondary with 10 catches for a still team record 255 yards receiving.
Michigan started New York Yankee third base prospect Drew Henson and the offense stalled, but when current New England Patriots starter Tom Brady entered, the Wolverines caught fire as Brady threw two fourth quarter TDs, but it wasn't enough.
Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr was forced to admit the obvious, "they are an outstanding football team," Carr said. "I think that the game was won up front, and Michigan State controlled that aspect of the game all game long on both sides of the ball."
Wouldn't it be great to make Carr say that again Saturday?