Michigan and Michigan State meet for the 110th time on Saturday in Ann Arbor.
It will be a historic occasion for both programs — the first night game in the history of the series that dates back to 1898.
There aren’t many firsts left in this yearly battle for in-state bragging rights. Truth is, when a rivalry spans 119 years you’ve probably already seen a little bit of everything. That certainly has been the case between the Spartans and the Wolverines.
Over the last two decades, pre-game predictions have meant very little. See, when a rivalry is built on passion (and hatred), you can throw out the records and the X’s and O’s.
“My memories of the Michigan/Michigan St. rivalry are intense,” said former Michigan captain Marlin Jackson, who played in the rivalry from 2001-04. “Like most rivalries this one with Michigan State has always been filled with a mutual hate. I still have the memory of one of their wide receiver’s spitting in my face and it still pisses me off.”
When a rivalry gets that personal, records and rankings truly mean nothing.
In 1990, Michigan entered the day No. 1 in the nation and the Spartans, unranked at the time, ended up notching a 28-27 win when the Wolverines couldn’t convert a two-point conversion in the final seconds of regulation. In 2004, highly-ranked Michigan had to together a comeback for the ages to secure a wild triple-overtime win over MSU, 45-37. In 2015, one of the strangest final plays in college football history led to a last-second MSU win.
Five weeks in the 2017 campaign, there are more questions than answers for both teams that take the field on Saturday. With a new quarterback behind center, the Wolverines are still figuring out their offensive identity. Meanwhile, the Spartans are still figuring out who they are altogether. One week after an uninspiring home loss to Notre Dame, MSU looked stout in a victory over Iowa the following week at Spartan Stadium.
When two teams and fan bases that don’t like each other match up, anything can — and probably will — happen.
To be safe … expect the unexpected.