After letting another game get away from them in Iowa on Saturday, Michigan State has now lost four of their last five games, but it always helps to have a hated cross-state rival come in to boost the confidence and energy in the locker room.
Since the day he was named coach, Mark Dantonio has circled the Michigan game on the calendar, and now the week has finally come to put those words into action and take on those hated Wolverines.
"The Michigan game to me is the game that we've pointed toward since I got here, and I think that's the way it should be," said Dantonio at his weekly Monday press conference. "It's a measuring stick for us because I do consider Michigan one of the elite teams in this conference. They have been and always probably will be."
"We compete against them in everything we do every day, whether it's for a recruit, whether it's for fans, whether it's for a 9 year old's heart, whatever it is. We're going to compete against those people down the road every single day. That's what it makes this game even more important, because it's a statement game and it's a measuring stick, and I'm sure it is for them, as well, just in a different respect," Dantonio added.
Yet the fact remains, the Spartans could possibly be underdogs for the rest of the season, hosting Michigan (7-2, 5-0 Big Ten), then going on the road to play Purdue (7-2, 3-2 Big Ten) and then finishing at home against Penn State (6-3, 3-3 Big Ten).
Although it is only one game, the effects of an MSU win could be monumental considering MSU has not beaten the Wolverines since Nov. 3, 2001, 26-24 in Spartan Stadium.
"I don't know any good athlete who likes to goes through their college career without beating their rivalry school, that is something that could change the senior's career just getting them in their last time, so we're all trying to send our seniors off happy," said Javon Ringer.
None of the current MSU players have ever experience a victory against their hated rival, and when they take the field on Saturday, exactly six years from the last MSU victory over the Blue and Gold, they will represent everyone in East Lansing and in a sold-out Spartan Stadium.
"We knew coming into the season that this stretch, going to Ohio State and then going to Iowa - two difficult places to win - was going to be tough, a tough challenge," said Dantonio. "We also understand that coming back and playing Michigan, we can throw the records out but we're going to play hard and we're going to get ready to play, and our players are going to be motivated to play."
There is something different around the Spartans' practice facility this week preparing for the Wolverines. Three countdown clocks saying "Beat Michigan" were placed in various locations around the building, reminding players exactly how much time remains until they take the field against Michigan.
"I'm looking forward to it, I missed it last year so I am really looking forward to going out there on Saturday. I've been hearing all the stories since freshman year about the past games and just the competitiveness of this rivalry is something I really enjoy," said Ringer.
"The game is right around the corner and we're all really anticipating this game a lot and we feel that winning this game could probably change our season. Everybody is feeling good right now, all of our focus is on Michigan, and I feel like it will continue until Saturday," added Ringer.
At Monday's press conference, Dantonio was asked the following question: No one on this team has beaten Michigan. That can work for or against you, how do you pull the positives out of this team with that?
Dantonio responded with a sincere and serious message: "How long are we going to continue to bow to the University of Michigan? How's that? But we'll find out."
It should be natural motivation to go out there and want to beat a hated rival, especially one that has dominated the all-time series.
"This is one of the biggest games of the year, in state rivals, we're just ready to get after them," said defensive tackle Ogemdi "OG" Nwagbuo.
So when the Spartans hit the field on Saturday in front of a sold out Spartan Stadium crowd of 75,005, they will try to win a game that has so much importance in so many ways.
It would be a step forward for the football program and Dantonio's first year, it would send the seniors out happy with a win over their rival, and it would mean that this group of players had finally found out what it feels like to beat Michigan before their career is over.
Countdown to Kickoff: Is MSU Ready for U of M
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