Friday, October 8, 2010

Fighting for Paul Bunyan and Signs of Progress in Michigan Football

Anyone who has even read about sports in Michigan is familiar with the rivalry game slated for this weekend. It's not just about in-state bragging rights or the awesome, 4-ft, wooden Paul Bunyan trophy claimed by the winner. A year of bragging rights over rival school alum--often a neighbor, co-worker or spouse--is at stake. The white board in our lab, generally reserved for work announcements, is dominated by a chart displaying the allegiances of lab members; its split 50-50. That's the beauty of this rivalry game; all wins and losses count the same, but a victory over your in-state rival is just a little bit sweeter.

The intensity of the rivalry is clear in the outcomes of the games. Rules were changed so that referees kept official time on the field after the 2001 game in Lansing, where Michigan State upset Michigan on a play that happened after time should've expired. After that defeat, Michigan answered with 7 straight wins in the rivalry, most including last second heroics by Michigan or meltdowns by Michigan State, depending on your perspective. Michigan State has won the two previous meetings, including an OT win last year which derailed Michigan's promising start.

The game this year comes with national attention on both teams. Coming off promising starts, this is the first time since 2003 that both teams are ranked in the top 25 coming into the game. Michigan has the current Heisman Trophy front runner at the helm of the offense. Michigan State is coming off an impressive win against Wisconsin, a team expected to finish at or near the top of the Big Ten.

Neither team comes in looking unbeatable. Michigan's defense is extremely poor in passing offense and barely serviceable in passing defense, but they have been able to pull out enough stops to win games. The offense comes up against a much better defense than they faced in previous weeks. It will be interesting to see if they can put up the same kind of success as in previous games. Michigan State has not played a true road game this year, and have put up mediocre stats against a weak schedule. We'll see how they measure up to a better team on the road.

It was at this point last year that Michigan collapsed under the pressure of a top 25 ranking and the change of pace in Big Ten play. Can they progress beyond last year? Is the offense ready to take on a defense at the next level. Can the Michigan defense hold up against a potent MSU running game and good passing game? We'll find out at 3:30 tomorrow. GO BLUE!

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