Thursday, February 23, 2012

Hot Topics: Who Is Michigan's Second Biggest Football Rival?

Each week we have our writers break down a "hot topic" among the Michigan fanbase and express their personal opinion .  Topics cover everything from rivalry games to apparel.  Writers have their own opinion and you are welcome to comment below or contact them via Twitter.

Representing Those For Notre Dame As Michigan's Second Biggest Rival

1) Michigan State is a basketball school. Notre Dame is a football school. Which is it easier (and more important) to have a rivalry with?  CFB MSU hall of famers are 10 no names. MSU’s most famous coach is NICK SABAN who left them for (pardon the pun) greener pastures. MSU’s football program has historically been a middling stepping stone and, while that may change, it has a huge impact on how the rivalry has developed over the last 100 years.  Contrast that with MSU basketball: 8 Final Fours, Magic Johnson, Izzo (…and on and on and on I could go.) MSU is a basketball school that’s just recently tasted football success and just because they WANT to be a relevant football school doesn’t mean they are.

Notre Dame, however, is THE definition of a football school. The whole conference realignment universe covets them, they history includes names like Rockne, Tim Brown, Lou Holtz, Paul Hornung, Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, Joe Theisman, Raghib Ishmail. Notre Dame started football in the 19th Century before Michigan State was even a University. They get a BCS bid if they finish high enough in the polls just because they are Notre Dame. Touchdown Jesus in South Bend is a pilgrimage worthy attraction and East Lansing is most notable for its trash tornadoes before rivalry games. Enough. Said.

MSU being a basketball school (and irrelevant on the national football stage) while Notre Dame is a storied football program is obviously not definitive. However, it does shape who we have a strong hatred for and more important rivalry with.

2) “But MSU is a trophy game and its been good the last few years!” – Take the long view Michigan State is our in state rival and we have a trophy game with them every year. They have beaten us 4 times in a row! They are even in our division! That’s correct but you can’t let a recent snapshot undo 125+ years of history. 125 years ago MSU didn’t exist. 125 years ago we were playing Notre Dame in football (the first game was 1887.)

Michigan-MSU all time football rivalry record is a ridiculously lopsided 67-31-5. During how many of those games has Michigan-MSU been nationally featured or have championship implications? Not. Many. The fact that its been a big game each of the last 5 years is, again, great if we are talking about the biggest rival of the last decade.  However, cut out the last 5 years and this debate isn’t even close.

You can’t recategorize a storied rivalry with rich history just because the in-state upstart has played you tough the last 4 years. 

3) Michigan and Notre Dame hate each other because they are so similar. This is a war between football bluebloods. Both schools are in rare academic company in multiple disciplines. Both schools have giant bodies of internationally located and prominent alumni. Both have logos (the Block M and the interlocked ND) that are recognizable anywhere on earth. Each is amongst the most coveted athletic brand names. Michigan- Notre Dame: #1 v #2 all time winning percentage, #1 v #3 all time Ws. They are two of the top 5 Midwestern football powers (with Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Ohio State as the other 3.) Game over for the argument.  The big names we have history with are the big rivals.

What do we have in common with Michigan State? I guess they are also located in the mitten. That’s about it. No destination stadium. No international brand. No massive TV draw, rich football history. No  relevance to have a rivalry with.  Michigan’s biggest rival is obviously the Buckeyes. The Game doesn’t have any parallels. For #2 you need to look these factors: history, national prominence/Championships, similarity of program, who you compete with for recruits, student applicants, and TV time. Using those factors CLEAR that Notre Dame dominates its comparison with MSU when those are the factors.

Give me ND as the #2 rival any day of the week… then put the fight under the lights to we can whoop them again!


Thomas Beindit - Representing Those For Michigan State As Michigan's Second Biggest Rival

1) The first and most important thing that makes MSU a bigger rival than Notre Dame is their location.  Michigan and MSU are both located in Michigan and only a short drive apart.  This may not seem important, but it's this aspect that makes this rivalry so intense.  I've grown up in Michigan all my life and I can say this game is VERY meaningful.  When you interact with Spartys on a daily basis, the rivalry ends up meaning a lot to you.  I admit there is a perception from fans at the national level that this is an unimportant game, but the intensity of this rivalry dwarfs Notre Dame.  I love both rivalries, but when MSU comes to town it's bragging rights for the next year.  You don't get that the same way with Notre Dame fans.  Sure, there's a lot of them, but just about half the people in this state are MSU fans.  Having that many opposing fans right next to you is what makes the rivalry so intense.  Go to a MSU v Michigan game.  You'll find half the people around town are from the other team.  That's pretty rare, regardless of who/when you're playing them, but that happens with MSU v. Michigan every year.

2) Along with this, MSU and Michigan have a stronger rivalry history than Notre Dame v. Michigan.  Not only did the schools start playing each other in 1910 on an annual basis, but they also added the Paul Bunyan Trophy in 1953 when MSU officially joined the Big Ten conference.  That's a lot of history right there.  Notre Dame's history is incredible, but MSU and Michigan have played 104 times.  That's only 4 less times than Michigan and Ohio State have played and we all know how great that rivalry has been.  The thing that makes this rivalry great is that both teams play every year and fans get riled up every year.  Rivalries are built on tradition and I can hardly discount 104 years as not "tradition".  I mean look at what 2001 clock controversy, the 2004 Braylon show, and the 2007 Mike Hart "Little Brother" comments did to this rivalry.  Michigan and Notre Dame have some great moments, but they've only played each other 39 times.  To me, that's a lack of "tradition".

3)  Michigan and MSU also play in the same conference.  Michigan v. Notre Dame is pretty meaningful, but at the end of the day it has little to no impact on Michigan's chances of a Rose Bowl berth.  I mean look at last season, MSU lost to Notre Dame, but they beat us so they got to go to the Big Ten Championship Game.  When the season's over Michigan v. MSU will almost always have more meaning than the Notre Dame game simply because it actually counts towards winning our conference.  It certainly helps us when we have a great season and win that game, but beating MSU is crucial to Big Ten success and will be even more important now that we're in the same conference.  I hardly consider this 3-4 year run of both rivalries as a great example, but getting in better position for roses and a Big Ten title are pretty important compared to a random non-conference game.


Final Points

Those For Notre Dame - The key thing to distinguish about M-MSU and M-ND is that just because the Sparties are annoying doesn't mean that we should let their perception of the rivalry (and our status as their #1 rival) change reality.  They hate us, we don't like them but that doesn't mean its automatically important to us.  As for the number of times, that isn't critical either. We have played them a TON of times but Alabama has played Tenn 80+ times (way more than its played Auburn) and that doesn't mean Alabama's more serious rivalry is Tennessee.  Its not the number... its what's at stake when we play over the long haul. Matched between M and ND are games with National Championship implications. How many times has that ever happened (...if it has) when we play MSU?  I want to beat the heavy weight more than the little school in East Lansing... and taking the long view ND is clearly rival #2.

Thomas - First thing first.  You said MSU was a basketball school...I always thought it was just a backup school...  Jokes aside, MSU may not be the definition of a football school, but that doesn't mean it's not an intense rivalry game.  I mean, there are plenty of great rivalries around the country where one school is significantly better at football than the other (Texas v. A&M, USC v. UCLA, Oklahoma v. Oklahoma St).  However, what makes these great rivalries?  Teams that have played for decades and truly despise one another.  ND and Michigan didn't even play each other for 35 years.  Michigan and MSU have been playing each other since 1910.  MSU has a lot more tradition with Michigan than Notre Dame will likely ever have.  Just because Notre Dame is a great football program doesn't make them instant rivals.  I mean Oklahoma, Texas, and Oregon have good football programs, but I'm not exactly calling them rivals.  Teams become rivals because the teams play on a consistent basis and fans and teams from both schools want to beat the other.  I certainly know a lot of people that want to beat Notre Dame, but there's a lot more that want to beat MSU.  Just because they beat us an average of once every three years doesn't make it a bad rivalry, it just makes games more meaningful.  I mean we win about 2/3 of the time, but when MSU actually does win (as we're seeing right now) it becomes pretty meaningful because of that extended history.

Photo Credit: Jonathan Daniel

1 comment:

  1. Notre Dame is the second biggest...Sparty has only been a meaningful rivalry over the last five years and more than likely are about to fall back into the middle of the B1G pack. They were able to take advantage of some nice scheduling of late while playing teams that were down and not playing teams that were up.ND, like UM, may have a couple years down but will always find it's way back.