No. 15 Michigan hosts Michigan State in one of college football‘s most storied rivalries. The Woverines and Spartans meet in the annual battle for The Paul Bunyan Trophy on Saturday, and it should be a good one. While these two schools — only an hour’s drive apart — first played in 1898, The Paul Bunyan Trophy wasn’t introduced into the rivalry until the 1953 season. The trophy was the idea of then Michigan governor G. Mennen Williams, who created it to commemorate Michigan State joining the Big Ten. Michigan State, which had been dominated by Michigan during its first half century playing each other, won the trophy in 1953, and would hold onto it for 13 of the next 17 seasons.
Then Michigan’s dominance returned in the late 1960s and lasted through the 2008 season during Mark Dantonio’s second season with the Spartans. The 35-21 Michigan State win in Ann Arbor during the 2008 season ended a six-game losing streak (as well as a run of 10 losses in the last 12 years) to the Wolverines, and began a streak that saw the Spartans win seven of the next eight. The series has been split 2-2 since Jim Harbaugh returned to Michigan, with the road team winning each contest.
Michigan: Remember when Michigan got run over by Wisconsin a week after going to overtime against Army, and everybody was writing the Wolverines off? Well, Michigan has gone 5-1 since then with the lone loss coming by a touchdown on the road against Penn State. While their two conference losses have eliminated the Wolverines from contention in the Big Ten East unless Ohio State collapses, this is still a team that can get to 10 wins on the season. If it does, it will be the fourth time in five seasons Michigan has done so under Harbaugh. Considering that Michigan won only 10 games in a season four times in the 15 seasons before Harbaugh’s arrival, it feels like his accomplishments with the program are written off too easily.
As for how Michigan has been able to turn things around, it’s a combination of factors. One is that the schedule has lightened a bit, but more than that, the Michigan offense has figured things out. The Wolverines have scored an average of 36.5 points per game in their last four, and that includes putting up 45 points against Notre Dame.
Michigan State: Last week was a nightmare for the Spartans. They built a 28-3 lead over Illinois, and had a 31-10 lead after three quarters only to collapse in the final 15 minutes. As a result, the Spartans have been left reeling and enter this game at 4-5, needing two wins to reach bowl eligibility. Considering that two of their final three games are against Maryland and Rutgers, that certainly seems doable, but it will feel like a disappointing season regardless.
The best way to correct that would be a win over a rival like Michigan. Beating Michigan is always one of Michigan State’s primary goals each season, whether it wants to admit it publicly or not, and a win in this game would soothe a lot of wounds. A loss, on the other hand, could send this team reeling.
Date: Saturday, Nov. 16 | Time: Noon ET
Location: Michigan Stadium — Ann Arbor, Michigan
TV: Fox | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Game prediction, picks
I mentioned that the road team has won each of the last four, and while I don’t know if that’s going to become five in a row, I do like Michigan State’s chances of covering. The Spartans have covered the spread in 10 of the last 11 meetings, as well as the last five games in Ann Arbor. I expect this to be a lower-scoring, defensive affair, and although I have Michigan winning the game outright, I think Michigan State hangs within 10 points or so. Pick: Michigan State (+14.5)
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