Michigan State is a very good football team. The Spartans, like the Buckeyes, currently have a 4-0 record in conference play, and their 7-1 record matches Ohio State's on the surface, but Sparty's one loss came on the road to a highly-ranked opponent, the Oregon Ducks. I don't need to remind you which team Ohio State's lone loss came to nor where it occurred.
And with the recent decline of That Team Up North, a team that has failed to even look competitive for much of the 2014 season, it stands to reason that people would start to view That Other Team Up North as a rival to the Buckeyes. In the Urban Meyer era, the Buckeyes have managed one thrillingly close win over Michigan State, beating the Spartans 17-16 during the 2012 season, and one devastating 34-24 loss in last season's Big Ten Championship game. Throw in that many believe the winner of Saturday's game will also be the team that wins the Big Ten this season, and the implications of Saturday's game seem significant enough to justify applying the "rivalry" designation.
When asked about an Ohio State rivalry over the summer, Michigan State's Mark Dantonio's response was, "Are you trying to create a controversy?" Dantonio discussed the close nature of these teams' last two meetings and acknowledged that Sparty's 34-24 victory in the Big Ten Championship was closer than the score would suggest. Dantonio and Meyer also go head-to-head in terms of recruiting, and these teams are currently the most respected teams in the Big Ten from a national perspective, to the extent that Big Ten teams are respected, anyway.
Urban Meyer made it clear this week that while he respects Michigan State as an opponent, Ohio State has one rival, and it's not the Spartans. "We have one rival here," Meyer said, going on to say that Michigan State is an excellent team and a team that stands between the Buckeyes and the Big Ten Championship. "They stood in the way last year and we failed." Penn State fans, I'm sure, will be thrilled to hear that as well.
A rivalry requires two teams on relatively equal footing. When you look at Ohio State's historic record compared with that of That Team Up North, you see a lot of parity. The Buckeyes have an all-time win percentage of .719; That Team Up North's all-time win percentage is .730. Both teams have had 78 consensus All-Americans on their respective rosters. The teams are tied with 44 bowl appearances each. That Team Up North holds the all-time series edge, 45-58-6.
Michigan State is a different story. This is an ascendant program, but their all-time stats don't measure up as closely with the Buckeyes, with an all-time win percentage of .599, 24 bowl appearances, and 31 consensus All-Americans in program history. Ohio State also has a 28-14 record, all time, against Michigan State, good for a .667 winning percentage.
That said, the outcome of Saturday's game will very much determine this season's outcomes for each of these teams. It may not be a rivalry game, but it's big. It's very big.
Rivalry or no, Buckeyes fans don't give a damn about the whole state of Michigan, and this Saturday is no exception.