Ohio State vs. Michigan is simply known as The Game and has been called the best rivalry in sports, while the Michigan-Michigan State game determines bragging rights in the Great Lakes State for an entire year.
But as Michigan has been down the past few years, a new rivalry has burgeoned between the Buckeyes and Spartans. It took another step forward last year when the Spartans beat the Buckeyes in the Big Ten Championship Game, and this year's upcoming contest will keep one team in the race for the national championship and in the front-runner's seat for an appearance in the league championship game.
So how does the Ohio State-Michigan State rivalry compare to the more traditional rivalries on either side with Michigan? Is it the next big thing? Jeff Svoboda of BuckeyeSports.com and Mike Wilson of SpartanDigest.com debate.
Svoboda: So where does the Ohio State-Michigan State rivalry stand? It's not The Game, Ohio State players and coaches went to great lengths to say Monday, but as an observer, I'm looking forward to Saturday's game a lot more than the one two days after Thanksgiving this year.
It's been weird, with Michigan's struggles since the end of the Lloyd Carr era, Ohio State has entered into a couple of other fueds over the past few years. The Buckeyes and Penn State had classic games in 2005 and '08 that Penn State won on the way to league titles. OSU battled Iowa for Big Ten championships in 2009 and 2010, winning each time. Wisconsin ignited what has long been a heated series when it dealt the '10 team its only loss of the season on the way three straight Rose Bowl appearances, while MSU took this series to another level with its win last December.
And it's not like Ohio State-Michigan State doesn't have some juice. Michigan State has a habit of knocking great Ohio State teams out of the national championship picture, whether it was 1974, 1998 or 2014. Despite all the similarities to Ohio State -- and I've long sort of viewed Michigan State as a cousin of some sort given the similarities between the two universities -- Ohio State fans have plenty of reasons to not be happy to see the Spartans on the schedule.
There's also a chance this rivalry will keep getting more and more intense going forward. I don't see an Urban Meyer-led Ohio State team falling off the map and not competing for Big Ten titles anytime soon, and it feels like you can say the same about Mark Dantonio's Spartans, who appear well on their way to a fourth 10-win season in five years.
However, the truth is that right now, this rivalry is much like the ones I mentioned earlier. It's hot at the moment, but it still kind of feels like the flavor of the week. It's a big game and there are storylines galore, from the revenge angle for Ohio State to the fact that MSU is trying to assert itself as the league's king of the hill to the recruiting battles between the two programs. I can't imagine wanting to be anywhere else on Saturday night, and this is the game of the year in the league.
But it's important because it's important, not necessarily because of the history behind the rivalry. And that's what separates the Michigan rivalry. The Game is The Game because of the 11 decades of competition that came before it, the dizzying highs and upsetting lows that the series has imparted for more than a century. The Game will always be The Game. Even when Michigan (or Ohio State) struggles, that last contest of the season is circled on the calendar.
You can wear green but you can't wear blue at Ohio State's facility. You can say Michigan State, but the Wolverines are The Team Up North. And Michigan is still the rivalry.
Crap. I just said Michigan. I think I owe Urban Meyer 10 pushups.
Wilson: You know, the conversation was similar around Michigan State. The word rivalry was used plenty, but what it is talked about as is different than Michigan State’s in-state rivalry with Michigan. That game is so personal to the entire team, especially the players from Michigan, many of whom were not heavily recruited by the Wolverines.
On the other hand, when Michigan State plays Ohio State, it provides a game for the kids from Ohio to stick it to their in-state school – even more so if the Buckeyes passed them over on the recruiting trail.
But it does not have to be deemed a “rivalry.” Just because two teams have something personal in some capacity does not mean it is a rivalry. Michigan State and Wisconsin have played some pretty meaningful games in recent years, while the Spartans also have played some tough, close games against Nebraska. Does it make those new rival schools? Not really. It just means they bring good games and importance to the table.
I think what people have to accept about this pairing is that it does not have to be a rivalry to be a great game. This was the game circled on calendars before the year as the big game to determine a lot about the conference picture, which in turn says a lot about the national title picture.
In this exact instance, as you say, this game has juice, which is what people expected. It has the storylines of last year with Michigan State knocking off an Ohio State team that had been rolling for two seasons. That is an opportunity for revenge for Ohio State. It also is an opportunity for Michigan State to continue to establish itself in the national picture.
But for both teams, this game is about taking control of the Big Ten East Division, in turn the Big Ten and because of that, setting themselves up for a potential spot in the playoff. This game matters greatly and it figures to do so in coming years atop the East Division.
What is so wrong with that? Other than it not fitting in the narrative of “rivalry” that so many want to claim, absolutely nothing.