|FILE - In this Aug. 8, 2011 file photo, Michigan State defensive tackle Jerel Worthy pauses during NCAA college football practice in East Lansing, Mich. On his left arm is a tattoo of a Spartan slaying a Wolverine. Michigan State will face in state rival Michigan on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2011, hoping to extend its three-game winning streak. (AP Photo/Al Goldis, File)|
Michigan St goes for 4th in a row vs Michigan
EAST LANSING, Mich.—Michigan is undefeated and rolling along behind quarterback Denard Robinson. The Wolverines have a much better defense, too.
And here sits Michigan State, right in the way of a 7-0 start.
Michigan's first loss in each of the past two years under Rich Rodriguez came against the rival Spartans, leading to six- and seven-loss seasons. Rodriguez is gone, fired and replaced by Brady Hoke back in January.
So Saturday's in-state showdown has plenty at stake as usual. The 11th-ranked Wolverines (6-0, 2-0 Big Ten) are trying to snap a three-game skid in the series and perhaps push themselves into the BCS conversation.
"It has definitely been a turning point in our season," Michigan tight end Kevin Koger said. "The past couple years, it really makes or breaks our season."
The 23rd-ranked Spartans (4-1, 1-0) have a chance to match a school record with a fourth straight win in a rivalry that dates to 1892. It is a fact coach Mark Dantonio is using to motivate his seniors, knowing they would enjoy the feat for the rest of their lives.
"I'm encouraging it," Dantonio said with a rare grin. "That's for sure."
Hoke insisted he doesn't have to say much to fire up his team to avoid a losing streak Michigan hasn't had in the matchup since 1959-62.
"I don't think I'll have to remind our guys what the outcome has been," Hoke said. "I would hope that they are smart enough to understand we haven't played Michigan football the way we need to."
Both teams are ranked when they clash for just the third time since 2000 and the victor will leave Spartan Stadium alone atop the conference's new Legends Division.
Dantonio had clocks installed when he was hired after the 2006 season that counted down the time left before playing the Wolverines. He lost his first game in the rivalry, but won his players over by lashing out at then-Michigan running back Mike Hart for comparing Michigan State to a "little brother" after the 2007 victory.
The usually reserved Dantonio took it personally, saying the Wolverines "need to check themselves" and warning them that "pride comes before the fall" after the game four years ago.
Since then, the Spartans have beaten college football's winningest program three straight times for the first time since 1965-67. Dantonio has a chance to be just the second coach in program history to beat Michigan in four of his first five games since Charlie Bachman did in the 1930s.
"Whether it's past players or past coaches or being in the game yourself, it makes it a little bit more personal," Dantonio said.
Hoke made it clear that beating Ohio State is a top priority, pounding the lectern after his hire as he said the rivalry with the Buckeyes was like "none other in football."
He did, though, install countdown clocks in Schembechler Hall to tick off the time before playing both Ohio State and Michigan State. And he said the Michigan State game was "always" the most physical game on the schedule when he was a Wolverines assistant from 1995-2002.
"They are going to punch you in the mouth and you'd better punch back," Hoke said.
Michigan State was clearly more physical than the Wolverines during Rodriguez's three-season era, outrunning them by a combined 339 yards to continue a trend. Whomever has had more yards rushing in the series has won the game in 38 of the last 41 matchups.
The Spartans will try to play power football the conventional way with running backs Edwin Baker and Le'Veon Bell.
Michigan, meanwhile, is counting Denard Robinson to make plays with his legs against the nation's top-ranked defense. Robinson is running for a Big Ten-best 120 yards a game, ranking ninth in the nation, and has scored eight times on the ground. He was averaging a jaw-dropping 181 yards rushing last year until the Spartans stymied him, holding him to 86 yards on 21 carries and forcing him into a season-high three interceptions.
Robinson is averaging three fewer rushing attempts than he did last season and is healthier than he was a year ago against Michigan State.
"I feel way different than I did last year, my body's not beat up like it was," Robinson said. "I've treated myself better than I did last year."
Sports fans in Michigan have enjoyed quite a treat this week.
Even locally, the Wolverines-Spartans rivalry was on the back burner a bit as the Detroit Lions played -- and won -- on Monday night at
The last time a state had an undefeated NFL team, a franchise playing for a baseball pennant and two ranked football teams matching up with each other -- according to STATS LLC -- was in 1978 when the Los Angeles Rams were rolling, the Dodgers were in the NLCS and No. 16 UCLA faced No. 17 Stanford.