Despite the fact that this is a big time rivalry game, and will be nationally televised -- it's probably fair to say, at this point, that few outside the state of Michigan, specifically the bottom half of the lower peninsula, will have much interest in how it turns out.
That's because the football teams of both schools fell off the national radar some time ago. Fair or not, this is what happens when a team racks up 2 or 3 losses in the first half of the season. Sure, they might very well both go on to have respectable years and wind up in a second-tier bowl game somewhere, but any chance of a BCS bowl, much less a national championship shot is loooooong gone, as Ernie Harwell used to say.
Head coach Brady Hoke of Michigan did a remarkable job last year of turning that team around after the disastrous reign of Rich Rodriguez. But ranking them in the preseason Top 10 this year? That was not only an incredible stretch, but just wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. I repeat, wrong. That wasn't even a close call. What in the hell were those people thinking?
Yours truly doesn't know who scheduled the Michigan/Alabama game as this year's season opener -- or even how far in advance that decision was made -- but it turned out to be a very bad scenario for the Wolverine faithful. Just when their program had begun to show signs of life, they found themselves in the unenviable position of taking on the defending national champs, and still a vastly superior team, in a much hyped game. In front of a national TV audience, they predictably got blown out. Pop, went the maize and blue balloon. Since then, it might also be fair to say Michigan football has returned to the days of old in a sense. They obliterate the patsies, but good teams that aren't intimidated, and stare them down, have a way of coming out on top. Like Notre Dame did a few weeks ago. Now here comes Michigan State....
Likewise, head coach Mark Dantonio has done a great job with the Spartans at MSU during his tenure. The "little brother" from East Lansing has grown up to put a whuppin' on his Ann Arbor sibling that tormented him for so long -- 4 years in a row. While likely few thought the Sparties would have national relevance at this season's end, much was expected by many of MSU this year. They were tough, and getting better. But since then they've barely squeezed by a couple patsies of their own. To boot, they got thumped by Notre Dame, went down to Ohio State, and lost an overtime game to Iowa -- all on the Spartans home field. So much for THAT balloon. See ya. But now here comes Michigan....
It's a really tough call. Like the Detroit Lions seem to depend on Calvin Johnson so much, so do the Michigan Wolverines on their QB Dennard Robinson. When in doubt, heave it Calvin's way. Or in UM's case, forget about the set plays they practiced all week. Just let Dennard run wild. Sometimes it works -- against the bad teams. Against the good ones -- it won't. Take away those guys, and both teams become quite ordinary, at best.
MSU has certainly demonstrated they can negate Dennard Robinson's running game the last 3 years, and likely will again this Saturday. If UM's going to win, they'll have to rely on everybody else stepping up and getting the job done. As a senior, this is Dennard's last shot to beat his green nemesis from East Lansing. Extraordinary athlete that he's been, your truly is pretty sure he doesn't want his UM legacy to be the guy that could never beat MSU. Sure, it's a team game, and that shouldn't matter. But it will. I know it, you know it, and Dennard damn well knows it. The media's already talking about it. Fair? No. Real? You betcha. That's just the way it works.
Conversely, Michigan State seems to be on the downside of their current bell curve. They look ripe for the taking by a fairly good team. The game's in Ann Arbor, and they'll have their usual crowd of 100,000+ maize and blue fanatics cheering them on, but home field doesn't seem to matter much against these two teams.
In the big picture it's just two also-ran teams playing an in-state rivalry game. So who's going to win?
Methinks Dennard still won't be able to run against MSU, but in the end, what I consider to be an ever so slightly better squad comes out on top due to team play. People in Ann Arbor rejoice, Dennard finally sheds that gorilla on his back, and goes on to be maybe a 2nd round draft choice in the NFL. Because despite his talent, they won't quite know how to utilize it either. He won't be a QB, but like Brady Hoke this Saturday -- they'll figure out something.
Michigan by 7.
PS. Thanks for the idea MP. Hope I didn't screw it up too bad.