By Chris Emma-
(CBS) A meeting in Michigan between two rivals brings a juxtaposition of how to build up a college football program and how to make one crumble.
Decades have seen Michigan as one of the game’s powers, the winningest college football program of all time. Michigan State has been termed by its in-state rival as the “little brother” by comparison, but you won’t know it on Saturday.
Recent history has seen the Spartans become elite and the Wolverines weary. It’s a role reversal from years of continuity in which Michigan was king.
Michigan State has done seemingly everything right recently. Coach Mark Dantonio has established his brand of football in East Lansing — tough, physical and smashmouth, the style that’s synonymous with the Big Ten.
At Michigan State, Dantonio has recruited well — landing big names but also taking chances with good scouting — and developed talent, leading to a Big Ten title and Rose Bowl win. The Spartans sit in the throne of their conference, with the Wolverines looking on with envy.
As the Michigan State (6-1) has risen, Michigan (3-4) has fallen. A program steeped in tradition has become a shell of itself, under the failing leadership of coach Brady Hoke.
Hoke entered Ann Arbor attempting to fit a square peg in a round hole, turning Rich Rodriguez’s spread identity into a pro-style offense. Had it not been for the magnificent Denard Robinson, the Wolveines would have never reached the Sugar Bowl. One could argue that Hoke was holding them back from greater success.
Michigan has recruited well but not developed talent. That’s the ultimate indictment of Hoke, who’s better suited as a defensive line coach than a head coach. Because the Wolverines’ regression isn’t a coincidence; Hoke simply isn’t made out for his job.
Meanwhile, the Spartans have made all the right moves, passing their rivals along the way. The two programs have become much different than their pasts.
Saturday’s juxtaposition will show how much better Michigan State has become.
1.) Michigan State’s chances of getting in the College Football Playoff have some weird circumstances. The winner between Michigan State and Ohio State will have a shot if it stays a one-loss team. However, the Spartans have to hope they don’t go head-to-head with Oregon before the selection committee, because the Ducks will get the nod after their head-to-head win back in September. But Michigan State doesn’t want to see a second Oregon loss, as it would weaken its own resume. The Spartans’ hope is to be evaluated in a group. First, let’s play the games.
2.) How amazing is this? The four leading rushers in college football all play in the Big Ten. Indiana’s Tevin Coleman is tops with 1,192 yards, followed by Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon, Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah and Minnesota’s David Cobb. Defensive coordinators throughout the Big Ten have a headache in trying to stop the run each week.
3.) Michigan made its first right move in the past few months when athletic director Dave Brandon cut student ticket prices by more than $100. Of course, this is the same Brandon who’s under tremendous fire, even seing a student protest against him. At the least, this is a step toward making things right.
4.) After another shaky showing from Trevor Siemian — one that saw Northwestern rack up just 28 second-half yards in a loss to Nebraska — Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald said his quarterback isn’t close to 100 percent health. This begs the question, why keep running Siemian out there? His ankle sprain hasn’t seemed to heal since it occurred in Week 2 of the season, yet Fitzgerald hasn’t offered a rest or looked to the capable backups. It’s confusing and costing Northwestern a chance to win.
5.) The concerns surrounding Ohio State in the early season were whether J.T. Barrett could be a capable replacement for the injured Braxton Miller. Instead, Barrett seems en route to Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors and possibly creating a quarterback controversy when Miller returns next season. Not a bad run for the backup.
6.) The losses keep stacking up for Illinois, and the schedule only gets tougher. Next up is Big Ten West-leading Minnesota in Champaign, followed by a stretch of Ohio State, Iowa, Penn State and Northwestern. The Fighting Illini still need three more wins to reach bowl eligibility. They won’t come easy on that slate. In fact, getting one will be a daunting task.
7.) I’m not buying Minnesota. Sure, the Golden Gophers are 6-1 and unbeaten in Big Ten play, but it won’t last. They barely snuck past Purdue at home last week. A season-ending stretch of Iowa, Ohio State, at Nebraska and at Wisconsin is bound to bring losses. A split would be impressive, potentially enough to win the West, but I’m not expecting it. The Gophers will fade at the finish, putting together a strong season but not enough.
8.) Nebraska looks to be real — and the favorite to win the Big Ten West. But a challenge awaits on Saturday. Can the Cornhuskers avoid their annual letdown game? Rutgers coming to Lincoln for an 11 a.m. kickoff seems like the perfect setup for a tremendous letdown. Memorial Stadium brings out the best in each opponent — hello, McNeese State — and Nebraska often plays down a level. The annual letdown game has been a tradition during Bo Pelini’s tenure, with losses to Iowa State, Northwestern and Minnesota telling the story. The Cornhuskers need to avoid it on Saturday to end the tradition of disappointment.
9.) A fun fact about new Indiana quarterback Zander Diamont: His stepmother, Cindy Ambuehl, was an actress on Seinfeld who played Jerry’s girlfriend from the infamous tractor story.
10.) The End-Around is rolling to Madison on Saturday to see the Badgers battle Maryland at Camp Randall Stadium. Look for plenty of love for Melvin Gordon, because he’s just that good.
Quote of the week
“Oh no she didn’t.” — LSU coach Les Miles on Katy Perry ripping his team (It’s well worth breaking from the Big Ten for a golden line like this.)
Big Ten power rankings
1.) Michigan State (6-1) — It could get ugly when the Spartans meet Michigan.
2.) Ohio State (5-1) — That loss to Virginia Tech is looking worse and worse.
3.) Nebraska (6-1) — With Ameer Abdullah, anything is possible.
4.) Minnesota (6-1) — A game with Illinois is a welcomed lift with a brutal stretch of games to follow.
5.) Wisconsin (4-2) — The Badgers should handle Maryland in Madison. If not, this team has major concerns.
6.) Iowa (5-2) — Losing on the road to Maryland was a huge step back for the Hawkeyes.
7.) Maryland (5-2) — It’s been a respectable run for the Terps in their rookie season with the Big Ten.
8.) Northwestern (3-4) — With two straight losses and a bye, the Wildcats are bound to get hot again, just like last time, right?
9.) Rutgers (5-2) — This isn’t the Big East or AAC anymore. Good luck, Scarlet Knights.
10.) Penn State (4-2) — The statue is still locked away.
11.) Indiana (3-4) — We’re still left wondering, how did the Hoosiers beat Missouri?
12.) Purdue (3-4) — The Boilermakers are the most improved team in the nation.
13.) Michigan (3-4) — “Little brother” is going to lay a beatdown on the Wolverines.
14.) Illinois (3-4) Losing Wes Lunt was just another bad blow for Tim Beckman.
Minnesota (-5.5) at Illinois — Minnesota, 24-17
Maryland at Wisconsin (-10.5) — Wisconsin, 34-24
Rutgers at No. 16 Nebraska (-19.5) — Nebraska, 35-21
Michigan at No. 8 Michigan State (-17) — Michigan State, 41-0
No. 13 Ohio State (-13.5) at Penn State — Ohio State, 28-20
Chris Emma covers the college sports scene for CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.