Don’t let the final score fool you. The game may have been a bit closer than many people, including the oddsmakers in Vegas, had thought it would be. But for most of last Saturday’s matchup between Michigan and Michigan State, the Wolverines were in control. And now they are back in the top spot in the state when it comes to college football, leaving a somewhat uncertain path ahead for the program in East Lansing.
With the Wolverines back on top in the Big 10, you can’t help but wonder if the Spartans will be headed back to the hated role of “little brother.” It doesn’t look good for them, as Michigan and Ohio State are clearly the class of the conference, with Wisconsin, Nebraska and Penn State also trending upward. U of M is a once again a powerhouse program with as much visibility as any school in the country. For the traditionally less successful school in the state, how do you compete?
The addition of Air Jordan to the brand of Michigan is going to make recruiting, both in-state and out of state, even more difficult for Sparty. It was already an uphill battle competing for recruits with Michigan, even when they weren’t very good. But with the way Michigan is winning games this season, and the very legitimate chance of them heading to the college football playoff, things may get even worse. As if the allure and mystique of Michigan needed a boost.
There’s also the brutal fact that MSU shares a division with not only the Wolverines, but also the Buckeyes. There’s a good chance that those two will alternate the top spot, not only in their division or conference, but in all of college football for years to come. Mark Dantonio has always gotten by with his good coaching and he will keep them competitive at times. But his style is going to have a hard time producing positive results against teams like UM and OSU on a consistent basis. The ground and pound game that MSU has found success with is just going to have trouble keeping up with other teams that have quality QBs and tough defenses. And that’s exactly what they face with their two biggest foes.
Though some former Spartans QBs have had success at the NFL level, no one would ever accuse the school of having a prolific air attack. And that has to be a large part of your game in order to be in the postseason consistently. There will certainly be some seasons when MSU is top-tier but another decade long hot streak seems unlikely. Now that the big dog in the mitten is back on its feet, it will be harder to stay on top of them for such long periods.
The Spartans may have a difficult time recovering from the disaster that is the 2016 season. The old order is being restored and that is going to mean a lot of broken hearts in East Lansing. With the establishment of Jim Harbaugh as heir apparent to the college football throne, the sun may be setting on this bright and prosperous period at MSU.
More and more, there will be seasons when the Spartans are looking up at the their most hated rivals. It’s inevitable. The sky is darkening and there’s a storm rolling into the state of Michigan. It is centered in Ann Arbor and might spell doom for the Michigan State Spartans. This year is surely lost, but there might be more like it and for us Wolverines fans, it doesn’t get much sweeter than that.