Michigan vs Michigan State: History of a Football Rivalry


Lucas Congdon, Staff Writer

People look forward to watching college football on a Saturday afternoon.

In Michigan, the two biggest colleges are Michigan and Michigan State.

This results in rival games once a year, usually on a Saturday in October at 12 or 3 p.m. The winner of the game receives the Paul Bunyan trophy, which started back in 1953 because of Michigan’s history as a lumber producing state. Michigan’s athletic director originally refused to accept the trophy when it was introduced, according to The Michigan Daily.

This rivalry goes back to 1898 when the Michigan Wolverines beat the Michigan State Spartans, 39-0. For the next three decades, Michigan went 25-2-3 against their rivals. In the second game in 1902, Michigan won 119-0. Michigan State (called Michigan Agricultural Aggies at the time) got their first two victories in 1913 and 1915.

After State’s two surprise victories, Michigan won 16 out of 18 and the other two games were tied at 0-0. However, in 1934 MSU snapped Michigan’s 22-game win streak and finally beat its rivals. Michigan State ended up winning the next 4 games under head coach Charlie Bachman, according to college football reference.

Michigan then took 12 straight under head coach and athletic director Fritz Crisler. Crisler’s “mad magicians” beat down Michigan State, 55-0, in the first televised game between these two rivals in 1947. In 1950, Biggie Munn’s Spartans took 4 straight against Michigan and only had two losses total in those 4 years.

During the ’50s and ‘60s Michigan State went 14-4-2, the best run in the rivalry. In 1956, Michigan State was ranked 2nd in the nation and Michigan was ranked 5th. Michigan State ended up winning the game, 9-0. In 1969, it was legendary Michigan coach Bo Schembechler’s first year at Michigan.

Michigan took the first game 23-12, and Schembechler finished with a 17-4 record against Michigan State.

From 1970 to 2007, Michigan went 30-8 against MSU, led by Schembechler and Lloyd Carr. Memorable games were in 1990 when the refs bailed Michigan State out on a missed pass interference call on a two-point conversion to give the Spartans the win, 28-27. Michigan was also ranked number 1 in that game.

In 1997, MSU allowed 6 interceptions and was annihilated 23-7. In 2001, the refs bailed Michigan State  out again by saying they spiked the ball before time ran out, when replays confirmed they didn’t. In 2004, they were up 27-10, but blew the lead and lost, 45-37, in triple overtime, a thriller of a game.

In 2007, Michigan running back Mike Hart called Michigan State the “little brother,” a term that is still popular among their fans today. After 2007 however, Lloyd Carr retired as coach, and the “little brother” saying backfired because Michigan State won 7 out of the next 8.

Michigan was stuck with questionable coaches in Brady Hoke and Rich Rodriguez; meanwhile Mark Dantonio led Michigan State to 3 straight seasons in the Top 10 final polls.

The most memorable victory came in 2015 when Michigan was up 23-21 with 10 seconds left and decided to punt the ball, but the only problem was that the punter fumbled the snap. Jalen Watts-Jackson recovered the fumble and returned it for a touchdown and Michigan State won, 27-23. This spoiled current Michigan Head Coach Jim Harbaugh’s first year coaching.

After 2015, Dantonio lost his momentum and Michigan took 3 out of the next 4. Dantonio resigned after 2019 and was replaced by Mel Tucker. On Halloween day in 2020, Michigan was projected to win by 21.5 but was outcoached and outplayed, losing 27-24.

Here are some students’ favorite moments between their favorite teams in the rivalry: “My favorite Michigan moment was when Devin Bush stomped all over Spartan Stadium when MSU was holding hands,” said Nick McDonald.

“My favorite Michigan State moment was when Michigan’s punter fumbled the snap and we scored the game winning touchdown,” said Luke Ballard.

This is an intense rivalry that goes way back. Most games are very loud and intense and it is a treasured rivalry for both teams. Michigan historically has been the most dominant team, but recently this rivalry has been very competitive.