The Wolverine

September 2012

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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MAIZE N' VIEW MICHAEL SPATH M MSU Is U-M's Biggest Rival This Year shadow of its historic rivalry with Ohio State, and for good reason. The Wolverines and Buckeyes have combined for 76 shared or outright conference titles — only seven fewer than the other 10 conference compet- itors combined — routinely decid- ing which program would wear the league crown that season. Michigan State, on the other hand, ichigan's rivalry with Michigan State has always been cast in the proverbial split the conference into two — the Leaders and Legends. The Big Ten Championship Game was a rousing success, outpacing the ACC (1.7 rating) and Pac-12 (3.2 rat- ing) television reach with a 4.3 rating. The SEC proved the big dog again with a 7.4 rating. The race to appear in the champi- has only seven Big Ten titles and, until recently, had not posed much of a challenge to U-M for two decades, going 4-6 against the Maize and Blue in the 1990s, and 3-7 in the first 10 meetings of the 2000s. However, the Spartans have Michi- gan's attention now, rattling off four consecutive wins over the Wolver- ines for the first time since 1959-62. This almost unprecedented string of success for the Green and White has had an effect within the borders of the Great Lakes State as more and more citizens fly green flags with a white "S," and homer journalists like 97.1 FM's Mike Valenti carry on and on about Michigan State's ownership of the state. MSU's boss Mark Dantonio has become almost flippant in regards to the Maize and Blue, snarky, snide comments the norm emanating from his lips as he refuses to acknowledge the century-old pecking order the Wolverines created with a 67-32-5 re- cord against their in-state foes. But Dantonio can squawk, and U-M and its fans cannot offer a con- vincing retort because the Spartans have won four in a row, rightfully earning bragging rights for more than 1,000 consecutive days. The Green and White, egged on by a boorish leader, have made life for Michigan supporters insufferable, especially within the geographical lines of those that call Detroit, Grand Rapids, Lansing, Traverse City, etc., home. That is why it is critical Michigan onship also supplied drama for the regular season, with Wisconsin and Penn State (both 6-2) jockeying for the Leaders berth, and Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska vying to represent the Legends. A November in which two or three Senior defensive end Craig Roh and U-M are eager to wrestle away bragging rights from MSU, which has won four straight in the series for the first time since 1959-62. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL never turn. The MSU faithful is loud and obnoxious, much more so than the Ohio State mass. There is a more tangible reason why Michigan has to win this year, though — the Big Ten champion- ship game berth will go through Michigan State. The Spartans are considered among the favorites, along with U-M and Nebraska, and are the defending Legends Divi- sion champs. For the Wolverines to advance to Indianapolis, they likely have to prove victorious against MSU in a division in which head-to- head outcomes could determine the title game representative. crippling sanctions for Penn State July 23, it left the Big Ten's confer- ence championship game neutered; neither Ohio State nor Penn State are permitted to play in the postseason, leaving only four eligible Leaders Division teams capable of advancing to Indianapolis. When the Big Ten invited Ne- When the NCAA handed down BIG TEN QUANDARY puts an end to Michigan State's reign in 2012, silencing the crowing crowd of Spartan enthusiasts relishing — and boasting — like the tide will 98 THE WOLVERINE SEPTEMBER 2012 braska to the conference for the 2011 season, its greatest motivator was to increase the brand name and profits of the conference. To do that, the league needed to stage a champion- ship game, and following the for- mula of the SEC, Big 12 and ACC, it teams are still in the hunt is what the Big Ten craves, increasing television ratings while building excitement for the Dec. 1 championship contest. But with Ohio State — a would-be conference favorite — and Penn State ineligible, the Badgers are expected to run away with the Leaders Divi- sion. Their lack of competition will not make for compelling TV. It's also unfair to a Legends Divi- sion in which three, four, maybe even five teams stand a legitimate chance of competing for the berth. Michigan will have to best MSU in the stand- ings, as well as Nebraska, Iowa, Northwestern and even Minnesota. Wisconsin only has to be better than Purdue, Illinois and Indiana. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany announced he has no intention of swapping one team in the Legends Division for one in the Leaders this year to create greater balance, and the conference won't match the two best records in league play up against each other in the champion- ship game. That's a mistake. This is a unique season with unique circumstances, and by maintaining the status quo the validity of posi- tioning the two best teams opposite each other for conference glory is tainted. The Big Ten should rectify its shortcomings before the season starts and it's too late. ❑ Associate Editor Michael Spath has been with The Wolverine since 2002. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @Spath_ Wolverine.

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