MSU is quick to admit that its rivalry matchup against Michigan this Saturday isn’t just another game on a 12-game schedule. It goes far beyond that.
“I think coaches know what game is important,” head coach Mark Dantonio said on Tuesday. “They understand. They can stand up here and say, ‘Well, this is just another football game,’ but it's not. We play in a championship game; it's not just another football game. You play in a rivalry game; it's not just another football game. It means more.”
No matter the ranking, no matter the experience and no matter the roster, you can expect a tough, physical contest whenever these two teams face off.
“No, you can’t just say it’s another game,” tight end Matt Sokol said. “This is what coming to Michigan State and being a player here is all about. You come here to play these guys, and it’s a game that is just something very special, especially being a guy who is from Michigan, and for our whole team. This is just a very unique experience, a very unique game. There’s something special about it.”
The Spartans will face the Wolverines at the “Big House” this Saturday, a stadium that holds over 100,000 fans.
No one needs to tell the younger players on the roster what to expect; they should already know. And if they don’t, they’ll quickly find out.
“The guys that are playing that haven’t played in this game before, they just know,” senior linebacker Chris Frey said. “You don’t have to tell them anything. It’s a rivalry game and they know what to expect.”
For Frey, this weekend marks the last time he will suit up against the Wolverines.
“I talked to my dad about it,” Frey said. “It’s my last time playing them, and you got to give everything you got because you’re not going to get this chance again.”
Frey, who grew up an Ohio State fan and hated Michigan from “day one,” said throughout the year, the team is preparing for this game, including taking extra reps in the weight room and watching extra film.
The experience from playing in this heated rivalry isn’t the only thing divergent from other games. The preparation, too, is unlike any other game.
“It’s just a different mindset,” Frey said. “The older guys that have played in this game before, they bring a different mentality to practice on every single day. Practices might be a little bit longer, they might be a little harder, but in the end, it’s going to to pay off.”
Sokol, who watched the MSU-UM series as a kid, can’t find words to describe the atmosphere of this illustrious rivalry.
“This is a week that we look forward to every year,” he said. “The atmosphere of this game is just something that is hard to put into words. If you haven’t ever really experienced it in person, it’s something really special and something we look forward to every season.”
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