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Ohio State fans, it's okay to love Michigan State football just a teensy bit

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Michigan State and Ohio State meet for the de facto B1G East Division title on Saturday. We're rooting for Ohio State, of course, but if there was another team worthy of a Buckeye fan's affection, it has to be Sparty.

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Note to the reader: I hope Ohio State beats Michigan State by 150 on Saturday night in East Lansing.  I hope J.T. Barrett throws for 700 yards, 10 TDs, and -2 INTs.  I hope Joey Bosa plants Connor Cook so deep in the Spartan Stadium turf that they find Jimmy Hoffa before they find the Michigan State quarterback.  And I hope the fans clad in green and white have more than enough scarlet and gray reasons to leave even earlier than usual.

That said...

I can't imagine I'm the only Buckeye fan in the world that doesn't have a soft spot for the Michigan State Spartans.  It is okay to admit it, even in a game week - and a game week as big as this one is, to boot.  Because there's not a lot to hate about Michigan State if we're being truly honest.  "Little Brother" ain't little anymore in this conference, and that's a great, great thing.

Sure, you can despise what happened at the B1G Championship Game last year (or despise the play calling on fourth down, or whatever), but you had to love watching Michigan State rumble past Stanford, making a claim to being the best one-loss team in the country last year (looking at you, Auburn).  Big win for Sparty, bigger win for the conference as a whole.

Go back even further, though.  One of the great things that has made Michigan State football more of a nail-biting experience over the years is the prevalence of many things "SPARTY, NO!"  And while Michigan State has, on occasion, snatched defeat from the jaws of victory more than a few times, some of the "SPARTY, YES" moments have been incredibly fun to watch.  To wit:

And:

And, my personal favorite:

The last one is my favorite because every time they cut to Ol' Bert on the Wisconsin sideline, he has no idea what's going on.  For our SEC reader(s?), y'all should know that look really well by now.

There's no great shame in rooting for Sparty, and some of that goes back to their aforementioned nickname: "Little Brother".  Mike Hart, one of the biggest mouthpieces in the long, storied history of UM Mouthpieces, is no stranger to the Buckeyes, vowing to come back for his senior year to beat Ohio State.  Good call, Mike, and I'm sure that 0-4 mark makes you feel proud and good.

Michigan State, however, knows about a different Mike Hart line all together.  The now infamous "Little Brother" line:

Welp.  That's how you lay down the gauntlet.  Head Coach Mark Dantonio was, needless to say, not a particularly big fan of that statement.  And since Hart said it back in 2007, all Sparty has done is provide the exact fall that Dantonio predicted would follow the exact pride that Hart famously showed.  Sparty is 6-1 against their older sibling, outscoring the Wolverines 197-101 in that span, and they've allowed one Michigan touchdown (in garbage time) in two years.  The enemy of our enemy is our friend, and in no way is that a truer statement than here.

And, finally, the biggest reason to have a bit of a crush on Michigan State is the man calling the plays.  No, not that guy.  Mark Dantonio.  Here's a guy who calls one of the best fakes in regular season history (see above) but has a freakin' heart attack a few hours later.  No worries, though, because he was back on the sidelines, perhaps even more curmudgeonly than normal shortly after.

Sure, Dantonio can be a bit of a pill from time to time, with his constant frowning, and his Greg Popovich-esque interview attitude.  But the former Ohio State coach helped turn a program that Nick Saban once ran (and John L. Smith once ran into the ground) to not only a B1G favorite, but a nationally relevant team from everyone's least favorite conference.

Plus, Dantonio has to run around campus trying to live up to a colleague who likes to show off his "Love Gun".  Not an easy act to follow, but Dantonio does it with aplomb.  Women love him.  Men want to be him.

Now I'm not saying that Buckeye fans need to burn their replica jerseys and invest in new outerwear.  I'm not saying that I'd trade Urban for Dantonio.  And, referring back to the preface, I'm certainly not saying that you, me, or anyone should root for Michigan State on Saturday night.  Read it, repeat it, know it.

What I am saying is that, of the myriad (read: three) teams that could come out of the B1G to represent our slice of college football, the Buckeyes are number one with no exceptions.  But #2 has to be Michigan State.  If the Buckeyes win, it will be a lovely thing, and a marquee moment for this year's team, possibly erasing thoughts of Bud Foster out-coaching Mensa-ball.  And I think Ohio State should win this game on the strength of offensive team speed, which killed Sparty in an early season trek to Oregon, and Joey Bosa's shrugging alone.

But, should the Buckeyes lose, it is okay to jump on Sparty's bandwagon for the rest of year.  Best to get on early and get a good seat, because they will fill up fast.