Dueling Columns: The Michigan Daily vs. The State News

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By Stephen J. Nesbitt, The Michigan Daily
and Jesse O'Brien, The State News
Published October 18, 2012

In the week leading up to the Michigan-Michigan State football game each year, football writers from the Daily and the student newspaper at Michigan State exchange columns. You can find this year's installment below, starting with the Daily and followed by the State News.

Stephen J. Nesbitt — The Michigan Daily
Jesse O'Brien — The State News

The Michigan Daily’s Stephen J. Nesbitt:

Barely visible at the base of one of the display cases in Schembechler Hall is a sentence etched in small black lettering on the white backdrop:

“The Paul Bunyan Trophy is temporarily located in East Lansing but will return next year.”

For a program on the upswing, those 15 words inked into the Michigan football team’s headquarters in Ann Arbor mark the Wolverines’ fatal flaw, their final stain: their inability to beat Michigan State.

No one really expected it to drag on this long.

Here we are today, with the Spartans riding a four-year winning streak in the rivalry against Michigan.

I’m a numbers guy. I call ‘em how I see ‘em — balls and strikes.

Losing to Michigan State four years straight? That’s painful. That’s a long, long time.

(Not quite as long as The State News’ seven-year skid to the Daily in our annual touch football match, though.)

Michigan leads the series 67-32-5. If you squint hard enough, it really looks a lot closer.

Keep in mind that the Wolverines kept the Paul Bunyan Trophy for six consecutive years before this stretch began in 2008.

And Michigan is going for win No. 900 on Saturday, hoping to push its title as winningest program in college football to the next level by becoming the first team to surpass 900 wins.

900.

Try squinting. That number just keeps getting bigger, doesn’t it? Sparty’s not far behind. Michigan State would need 22 consecutive unbeaten seasons to hit that mark.

Now, I won’t pretend to be nonpartisan, because I’ve been on both sides of the rivalry. My parents and oldest sister were tried-and-true Spartans, while my three brothers and I have all attended Michigan.

Growing up in Grand Ledge, Mich., just 20 minutes outside of East Lansing, I straddled the Michigan State-Michigan line for years. I know, that can’t be done. It’s wrong. It’s halfway illegal in most states, including ours.

But I did it. I cheered both ways. I know what this weekend is like around East Lansing. It’s got the air of the Super Bowl. The Spartan Marching Band adapts its cadence to insert ‘Go State, beat Mich’gan’ and swaps the fight song lyrics to: “Smash right through that line of blue” and “Mich-i-gan is weak-en-ing.”

But Michigan’s not the one weakening right now.

The Spartans are boasting a 4-3 record this fall — and let’s be clear, that’s a bad 4-3. Like the Michigan State student section, the Spartans just didn’t show up against Iowa last week.

With a loss this weekend, Michigan State is poised to plummet off everyone’s radar. So it’s going to be a circus. It’s just too bad Michigan State even has to make the trip to the Big House.

Michigan coach Brady Hoke hasn’t lost a game in the friendly confines of Michigan Stadium. The Wolverines are a perfect 11-0 at home since Hoke took the reins last January.

And they’ve got this quarterback. I think you’ve met him. Denard Robinson, meet Michigan State. Guys, Denard.

You probably know him quite well. Oh, and you know who else knows him? Everyone.

Robinson sat beside wide receiver Devin Gardner at the Michigan-Michigan State women’s soccer match in Ann Arbor last week, and in the closing moments of halftime, a group of elementary-aged girls lined up along a fence behind the goal line about 50 yards away to catch a glimpse of the dread-headed quarterback.

A Spartan parent urged them on. Okay, one … two … three.

“DENARD!” the troupe of six girls shrieked in unison. He didn’t hear. They tried again, and this time he turned, smiled and motioned them over.

They slowly ambled two-by-two along the sideline to meet him. He posed for photos with them, noticing only when they started to walk away that they were all bundled up in Michigan State jackets.

“Hey now!” he laughed.

Somewhere in East Lansing, Andrew Maxwell whimpered off in a lonely corner: “But I’m your quarterback!”

On the gridiron, the ferocious Spartan defense has shut Robinson down twice, knocked him out of the game twice and given him a terrific little facemask yank along the way.

But he looks like a different player today. For the first time since his first month as starting quarterback back in 2010, Robinson hasn’t thrown an interception in two games — backhanded compliment, eh? — and the offense has averaged a healthy 40.1 point per game at the Big House the last three season with Robinson at the helm.

Get your chirps in quickly, because this honeymoon is coming to an end. It’s time for Paul Bunyan to come home. Michigan State has won the battle, but Michigan still leads this war.

Sure, maybe it’s been 1,812 days since Michigan beat Michigan State, but I just went 800 words without making a joke about that naked professor.

— Nesbitt is the Managing Sports Editor for the Michigan Daily. He can be reached at stnesbit@umich.edu or on Twitter: @stephenjnesbitt

The State News’ Jesse O’Brien:

Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio might have said it best in his press conference Tuesday.

“I think you’re green or blue in this state by the time you get to age 14,” he said. “Maybe 10.”

And once that affiliation is determined, as 2Pac once said, “It’s on for life.”

There’s no denying the University of Michigan is one of the nation’s premier institutions — as I’m sure you might have heard this week from at least one student, alum, faculty member or middle-aged band wagoner who happened to pick up a $5 Michigan T-shirt when Steve and Barry’s had its blowout sale.

The football team is storied. The institution itself has produced several Nobel Prize winners and an American president. So what makes it so hard for the Wolverines to count to four?

You might not remember the last time Michigan beat Michigan State in football, which is understandable. Back then, you probably had more important things on your mind, like remembering the right order of dance moves to “Crank That (Soulja Boy).”

Of course, that hasn’t stopped Michigan from continuing to allege its dominance over the Mitten State.

In case you’ve been living under a rock — or just happen to be one of the many Michigan fans living in denial — it’s been four years since the Wolverines last beat the Spartans.

Of course, those games don’t really count. I mean, 2008, 2009 and 2010 were all rebuilding years. And last year, Michigan State only won because they cheated, and because then-sophomore defensive end William Gholston is a “thug.”

It’s the same old rhetoric. And as we all know, excuses are like excrement — it all stinks, and Ann Arbor’s full of it.

With each new season, I get the pleasure of hearing about the Wolverine resurgence, how this will be the year they’ll run roughshod over the Big Ten and the Spartans — and then get to watch Michigan’s season fall apart following a loss at the hands of “non-rival” Michigan State.

Each season, I get to hear about Denard Robinson’s Heisman candidacy before Michigan has played a game, how the sophomore, then junior, now senior quarterback will shatter every NCAA Division-I record en route to New York for the trophy presentation. And each year, Robinson blows up in spectacular fashion — though this season’s fall from grace was my personal favorite, when he threw four interceptions on four straight passing attempts against Notre Dame.

But please, tell me again how “Shoelace” torched an 0-6 Massachusetts team fresh from Division II for 397 total yards and four touchdowns. That impresses me.

So what does Michigan have that the Spartans don’t? Aside from a quarterback who throws the ball with the type of accuracy usually displayed by the male clientele in a Rick’s bathroom.

Well, Ann Arbor is home to a fanbase so inflated with self-importance, they refuse to acknowledge the past four Michigan State victories without prefacing the conversation with, “Well, what about the previous six?”

This is the same program that insists Michigan State isn’t a real rival, yet when the Wolverines preposterously found themselves playing in a BCS Bowl, a group of fans took it upon themselves to remind the nation that “Spartan tears taste like Sugar.”

And although the Wolverines were able to stumble backwards into the Sugar Bowl last year, they still needed overtime and a bungled touchdown reversal to secure a three-point victory over an 11-3 Virginia Tech team that finished second in the ACC.

This is the same program that plastered Dantonio’s word on its own weight room wall, but will tell you Saturday is just another game. That’s like Kanye West visiting the site of Occupy Wall Street while he’s in the middle of promoting an album titled “Watch the Throne.”

Whether or not you want to admit it, ”Little Brother” is in your head. You’re the Johnny Drama to Michigan State’s Vincent Chase. You’re Donnie Wahlberg.

You’re Tito Jackson.

The truth is, a whole graduating class has come and gone since the last time Michigan beat Michigan State in football.

That’s 1,812 days, if you’re keeping track.

And come Saturday, that will be 1,813 — and counting.

Jesse O’Brien is a State News football reporter. He can be reached at obrie151@msu.edu.