The flames of the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry were stoked earlier this week when Wolverines tailback Fitzgerald Toussaint brought up the two words that make the Spartans and their fans cringe:
It was Michigan tailback Mike Hart who first referred to the Spartans as the Wolverines’ “little brothers” in 2007 after Michigan rallied for a 28-24 victory in East Lansing.
Toussaint poked the bear again on Tuesday night when he was asked if he thinks Michigan’s rivalry with Michigan State — the teams play today at Spartan Stadium — is nastier than the one with Ohio State.
“I believe it,” Toussaint said.
“We labeled them as a little brother. And, you know, the little brothers always want to prove themselves and try to beat up the big brother one day.”
The problem with Toussaint’s reasoning is that Michigan State has been the one doing the bullying of late. The Spartans are 4-1 against the Wolverines since Hart’s comments, including three victories by two touchdowns. Michigan’s only victory during that span is a 12-10 decision last season in Ann Arbor.
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio, whose team is a 5-point favorite, was asked this week if he was concerned the Spartans would let their emotions get the best of them against the Wolverines.
“I encourage emotion,” Dantonio said. “I think that’s part of the football game. I think that’s part of being young, and really even as a coach that’s part of it. I encourage our emotions and want us to have fun with this experience.
“Obviously, you have fun when you’re successful so you have to play with an attention to detail and you’ve got to play within the framework of who you are and what’s expected. So there’s a Catch-22 there. But it’s hard for me to say, ‘Hey, I hope we’re not too emotional.’ Because I want us to be resilient, but I want us to be emotional.”
Michigan State’s defense has been fantastic, but its offense has been inconsistent. Meanwhile, Michigan’s offense has been explosive, but its defense has been leaky at times.
It makes for an interesting matchup in a game that will determine the frontrunner in the Big Ten Conference’s Legends Division, and Toussaint only added a little more spark to the rivalry with his comments.
Pick: Michigan State 30-20.
UW (-9½) at Iowa: The Cedar Rapids Gazette pointed out this week that the most recent game between these teams — a 31-30 victory for the Badgers in Iowa City in 2010 — included 22 NFL draft picks, with five first-rounders. That first number will grow after the 2014 draft. The Badgers have more top-end talent than the Hawkeyes, but it’ll still be a grind at Kinnick Stadium.
Pick: UW 21-17.
Minnesota (+8) at Indiana: The Golden Gophers are 2-0 with Jerry Kill coaching from the press box, so that’s where he’ll stay despite the fact he’s feeling better while going through treatment for epilepsy. It’s tempting to pick Minnesota here because it should be able to run the ball on Indiana, but the fast-paced Hoosiers will be able to put enough points on the board to win.
Pick: Indiana 35-31.
Northwestern (+6) at Nebraska: The Wildcats are still banged up, but their mental makeup might be in even worse shape after four consecutive losses. Nebraska is in the dumps, too, after a loss at Minnesota. At least the Cornhuskers still have a division title to play for.
Pick: Nebraska 31-30.
Ohio State (+32) at Purdue: The Boilermakers have beaten the Buckeyes four times at Ross-Ade Stadium since 2000. Even that stat won’t help Purdue convince itself it has a chance against this Ohio State team.
Pick: Ohio State 45-7.
Illinois (+10½) at Penn State: The schedule-maker did Penn State, which is licking its wounds after a 63-14 loss to Ohio State last week, a favor by putting Illinois next on the Nittany Lions’ slate. The Fighting Illini have lost three consecutive games since a 3-1 start, allowing 137 points during that skid.
Pick: Penn State 35-21.
Last week: 3-1 overall, 3-1
vs. the spread.
Season: 59-9 overall, 33-25 vs. the spread.