There was a time, just two short months ago, when this game looked to have major Big Ten implications. Both Michigan and Michigan State were ranked, and were poised to give Ohio State a run for its money in the quest for the Big Ten title. While Ohio State has soared effortlessly and Michigan has suffered a few setbacks, Michigan State has plummeted to the bottom of the conference, embarrassing itself on the way down. While Michigan is still playing for a major bowl game, the Spartans are playing primarily for the Paul Bunyan Trophy, and the in-state bragging rights that come with it. Oh yeah – and a win might save Bobby Williams’ job.

Michigan rushing offense vs. Michigan State rushing defense: Whatever happens at this matchup, it won’t be pretty. The Michigan State defense has allowed nearly 200 yards per game on the ground, which is good enough to be the 99th-best run defense in the country. Michigan will try to exploit it with tailback Chris Perry, who in the midst of recovering from injury was stymied against Iowa last weekend. Look for Perry and Michigan to re-establish themselves on the ground.

Edge: Michigan

Michigan passing offense vs. Michigan State passing defense: Michigan State’s pass defense is as good as its rush defense is bad. Spartans Thomas Wright and Jason Harmon have three interceptions each, and could make things very difficult for a crop of Michigan receivers that has been, at best, inconsistent. But what this Michigan offense has shown this year is its ability to beat you unless significant pressure is put on quarterback John Navarre. The burden will be on defensive end Clifford Dukes (four sacks, seven-and-a-half tackles for a loss) and the Michigan State front four to force Navarre into bad decisions.

Edge: Push

Michigan State rushing offense vs. Michigan rushing defense: Before last week, this would have been a no-brainer. The Michigan rush defense was the one component of the Wolverines that lived up to its billing. But when Iowa’s Fred Russell left the game and the sensational sophomore tailback Jermelle Lewis entered the game, the Michigan rush defense looked positively horrid. Michigan State’s Dawan Moss has been functional, but will need to be sensational if the Michigan State offense is to move the chains without quarterback Jeff Smoker. Short of that, expect the Michigan rush defense to get back on track.

Edge: Michigan

Michigan State pass offense vs. Michigan pass defense: Who knows what happens to the Smokerless Spartans? But no matter who lines up behind center, Michigan State still has Charles Rogers, who will be matched up against Michigan cornerback Marlin Jackson in the premier one-on-one matchup of the day. The problem for Michigan is that Rogers is a big play receiver, who is averaging 20.6 yards per reception. Michigan has had a tasty habit this season of giving up the big play, so if Michigan State can find a way to get the ball in his hands, Rogers can make the day a disaster for Michigan.

Edge: Michigan State

Special teams: Michigan State kicker Dave Rayner is 8-for-10 on field goals this season, and a perfect 22-of-22 on PATs. If you need to know the stats of the Michigan kickers, just imagine the worst possible stats and make them a touch better. But last week punter Adam Finley emerged as coach Lloyd Carr’s choice for the rest of the season after pumping a 40-yarder through the pipes. Will Finley kick consistently enough to offset two months of special teams disaster? It would take a lot. Finley gets the edge over Michigan State punter Jason Daily whose punts average less than 40 yards.

Edge: Push

Intangibles: Michigan does not make it a habit to drop two straight in the Big House. Michigan does not make it a habit to drop two straight to Michigan State. Michigan will have to try pretty damn hard to lose this game against a Michigan State team that is not only suffering serious off-field turmoil, but has looked pretty pathetic on the field as well. In what could be Bobby Williams’ last game at Michigan Stadium, look for his Spartans to put up a fight that does not come near to being enough of one.

Edge: Michigan

Michigan 24, Michigan State 13

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