MSU—U-M football rivalry personal for Spartan players and coaches
With in-state rival Michigan (3-4 overall, 1-2 Big Ten) coming to East Lansing on Saturday, it didn’t look like Tuesday’s media conference was head coach Mark Dantonio’s favorite, with members of the press bombarding him with questions about the oncoming in-state rivalry game.
“I had a hard time believing Brady (Hoke) had this long of a press conference,” he joked toward the end. As game day draws closer, players and coaches said that even though most projections have No. 8 MSU (6-1 overall, 3-0 Big Ten) as a 17-point favorite, this game has not lost its luster, and remains the most important regular-season game on MSU’s schedule.
“It’s a big game, it’s a big rivalry game,” junior quarterback Connor Cook said. “We could be 0-5 going into the game and they could be No. 1 in the country and it’s still going to be a tight game.”
Michigan has struggled this season — and in recent years, in the rivalry series. MSU has won five of the past six meetings with the Wolverines. Even with a home matchup against No. 13 Ohio State (5-1 overall , 2-0 Big Ten ) coming up after U-M, Dantonio said this remains the most important game on the schedule.
“This is a game that we point to and say ‘this goes beyond our schedule, this goes beyond our future,’” Dantonio said. “‘This goes beyond what we are doing now.’”
Senior linebacker Taiwan Jones , born in New Baltimore, Mich., was not recruited by U-M. He said the rivalry is personal for him and others on the team.
“Coming up, Michigan didn’t really recruit me, so you always have to take that personally,” he said. “I know a few of the guys on that team, and we talk a little bit, but we haven’t talked much this week.”
Jones said he went on an official visit to U-M and a official visit to MSU and liked the way MSU treated its players.
“I wasn’t that highly recruited out of high school,” he said. “But ... when I went to an unofficial (visit) to Michigan and an official here, I just saw the difference in how they treated ... their recruits.”
Both players admitted that the rivalry has changed in the time since Mark Dantonio has taken over as head coach for MSU.
“After Mike Hart made that comment and kind of upset coach D and everyone around here, he said to us that things were going to change,” Cook said. “That we’re going to come back and the tide is going to turn, and there is going to be a power shift. We’ve done that through the years through hard work in the offseason, the winter conditionings, the summer workouts, all that stuff.”