Michigan–Michigan State football rivalry
|First meeting||October 12, 1898, Ann Arbor; Michigan 39, Michigan Agric. 0|
|Latest meeting||November 16, 2019, Ann Arbor; Michigan 44, Michigan State 10|
|Trophy||Paul Bunyan Trophy|
|All-time record||Michigan leads, 71–36–5|
|Trophy series||Michigan leads, 38–27–2|
|Longest win streak||Michigan, 14 (1916–29)|
|Current win streak||Michigan, 2 (2018–present)|
|Locations of Michigan and Michigan State|
The Michigan–Michigan State football rivalry is an American college football rivalry between the University of Michigan Wolverines and the Michigan State University Spartans. The teams first played in 1898 and have met 112 times. The winner of each year's game receives the Paul Bunyan – Governor of Michigan Trophy, a four-foot wooden statute of a lumberjack that was first presented in 1953 to commemorate Michigan State's beginning football competition as a member of the Big Ten Conference.
Michigan leads the series with an overall record of 71–36–5, though the series has seen several ebbs and flows during which one team or the other has experienced periods of dominance. In the earliest years of the rivalry from 1898 to 1933, Michigan was the dominant program with a record of 23–2–3. The Spartans' first victories were in 1913 and 1915 under head coach John Macklin. Prior to 1958, 44 of the 50 games were played on Michigan's home field. The teams began alternating home fields in 1958.
The Spartans had four consecutive victories from 1934 to 1937 under head coach Charlie Bachman. With the arrival of Fritz Crisler as Michigan's head coach in 1938, the Wolverines then won 12 consecutive games. During the 1950s and 1960s, under head coaches Biggie Munn and Duffy Daugherty, the Spartans had their most prolonged period of success against the Wolverines, compiling a record of 14–4–2.
The pendulum shifted back to the Wolverines under Bo Schembechler and his successors, as Michigan won 30 of 38 contests from 1970 to 2007. After Mike Hart's statement in 2007 referring to the Spartans as the Wolverines' "little brother", the Spartans reasserted themselves under head coach Mark Dantonio, winning seven of eight games from 2008 to 2015. Since 2016, under head coach Jim Harbaugh, Michigan has won three of four games.
Paul Bunyan Trophy
In 1953, the "Paul Bunyan – Governor of Michigan Trophy", or simply the Paul Bunyan Trophy, was introduced into the rivalry. It is a four-foot tall wooden statue of Paul Bunyan, the giant lumberjack of American folklore, mounted on a five-foot base. It reflects Michigan's history as a major lumber-producing state. The trophy was first presented by Michigan Governor G. Mennen Williams to commemorate Michigan State's first year of football competition in the Big Ten Conference.
When the trophy was created in 1953, Michigan athletic director and former head coach Fritz Crisler reportedly refused to take the trophy if Michigan had won the game. Crisler's protests turned out to be irrelevant, as Michigan State won the first trophy game in 1953, displaying it in Jenison Fieldhouse.
The following year in 1954, the trophy was left on the field for half an hour after Michigan defeated the Spartans. "We'll find a place for the trophy," Crisler told The Michigan Daily after the game. The Paul Bunyan Trophy was stored in the Michigan Stadium locker room in one of the equipment closets.
Despite winning in 1954 and 1955, Michigan did not engrave their scores onto the neglected trophy. When the Spartans won in 1956, they engraved the Wolverine victories onto the trophy. The Spartans possessed the trophy for the next eight years, tied for the longest the trophy has remained at one school, and part of a streak during which the Paul Bunyan Trophy was in East Lansing for 11 of 12 years.
The 1958 game ended in a 12–12 tie. The favored Spartans were so embarrassed that they didn't win, they originally refused to keep the trophy while Michigan also refused. Michigan State eventually relented and kept the trophy.
1898: The first game
The first game in the rivalry was played in Ann Arbor on October 12, 1898, with Michigan defeating Michigan Agricultural College, 39–0. The Detroit Free Press wrote that the contest was "essentially a practice game," as Michigan played 25 different players during the game. Charles Widman scored two touchdowns, and Leo J. Keena kicked a field goal from a place-kick, "the first time a Michigan eleven has ever scored in that fashion." After the 1898 shutout, Michigan sent its freshman team against Michigan Agricultural for the next three years.
1902: The "Point-a-Minute" team scores 119 in 38 minutes
Michigan's undefeated 1902 team outscored opponents by a total of 644 to 12 and became known as the second of head coach Fielding H. Yost's "Point-a-Minute" teams. The Wolverines defeated Michigan Agricultural by a score of 119–0. Michigan was held on downs only once in the game, as right halfback Albert Herrnstein returned a kickoff the length of the field and scored seven touchdowns in all. The game was played in halves of 20 and 18 minutes. With 119 points in 38 minutes of play, Yost's Point-a-Minute squad averaged 3.1 points per minute against the Aggies. After the game, The Newark Advocate wrote: "Michigan has undoubtedly the fastest scoring team in the world, and the Ann Arbor boys play Yosts' 'hurry up' formations like clock work. It requires a fast team to take the ball, line up and score 119 points, even if they have no opponents in two 20 minute halves."
1908: First game in East Lansing and first tie
In 1908, the game was played for the first time in East Lansing, before 6,000 spectators at East Lansing's College Field. When the game ended in a scoreless tie, the Aggies' fans "went wild with delight". In Ann Arbor, the result was met with disbelief among Michigan fans who had expected an easy win. The Detroit Free Press called it "the greatest game of football ever seen in this part of the state."
1910: MAC's undefeated season spoiled
On October 15, 1910, Michigan beat Michigan Agricultural 6–3 at Ferry Field. In games against other opponents, the 1910 Michigan Agricultural team compiled a record of 6–0 and outscored opponents 165 to 2 (including a 17–0 victory over Notre Dame). Prior to the Michigan game, the M. A. C. student body adopted the slogan, "On to Michigan." After a scoreless first half, the Aggies blocked two punts in the third quarter. On the second occasion, the punt was blocked and rolled to Michigan's 12-yard line where the Aggies recovered the ball. Leon Hill kicked a field goal from the 21-yard line, and the Aggies' maintained a 3–0 lead into the fourth quarter. With less than five minutes left in the game, Michigan quarterback Shorty McMillan completed a pass to Stanley Borleske who ran 50 yards to the Aggies' 15-yard line. Due to a penalty, the Wolverines had five unsuccessful chances to score the touchdown after advancing to the three-yard line. Michigan then lined up for a field goal, but the play was a fake. Don Green took the snap from center and ran for the touchdown.
1913 and 1915: M.A.C.'s first victories
On October 18, 1913, Michigan Agricultural secured its first victory over Michigan, 12–7. The Aggies' fullback, George E. Julian, scored two touchdowns, and Blake Miller returned a Michigan fumble 45 yards for a touchdown. Miller suffered a blow to the head during the game and was hospitalized in serious condition. After the game, The Michigan Alumnus made note of the Aggies' potential as an athletic threat: "This victory with the football tie in 1908, and the Farmers' clean sweep in baseball in 1912, point to the fact that M.A.C. will bear watching by Michigan."
In 1915, the Aggies again defeated Michigan, 24–0. Neno DaPrato scored two touchdowns and kicked a field goal for the Aggies. In the Detroit Free Press, E. A. Batchelor summed up the game: "Twenty-four to nothing sounds like a horrible beating but it doesn't even begin to express how completely the M.A.C. team outplayed and outfought Michigan's. It wasn't merely a defeat for the Maize and Blue but a massacre, a rout, an annihilation. . . . Michigan was beaten in everything. In music, cheering, fighting and playing football, the Aggies just naturally outclassed their foemen so badly that the Maize and Blue crowd could find no single straw at which to clutch as it drowned in a sea of tears." The victory was the second in three years against the Wolverines under head coach John Macklin.
1934: MSU snaps Michigan's 22-game unbeaten streak
In 1934, Michigan State coach Charlie Bachman led the Spartans to a 16–0 victory in Ann Arbor. Michigan State dominated the game statistically with 182 yards from scrimmage to 72 for Michigan, and with 15 first downs to three for Michigan. The loss broke Michigan's 22-game unbeaten streak dating back to October 1931. It was also the Spartans' first victory over the Wolverines since 1915 and only the third in 29 games. After the game, a group of Michigan State supporters rushed the field and attempted to tear down the goal posts at the north end of the field. Michigan fans then charged the field to protect the goal posts. Fist fights ensued, and the "rioting" continued for 20 minutes. Bachman's Spartans continued to dominate with a 25–6 victory in 1935, a 21–7 victory in 1936, and a 19–14 victory in 1937.
1940: The Tom Harmon game
In 1940, Michigan defeated Michigan State by a 21 to 14 score. Michigan halfback Tom Harmon scored all 21 points for Michigan, running for three touchdowns and kicking the extra points as well. Harmon went on to win the 1940 Heisman Trophy.
1947: Crisler's "Mad Magicians" spoil "Biggie" Munn's debut
In 1947, "Biggie" Munn took over as Michigan's head coach. Munn had been an assistant coach at Michigan under Fritz Crisler from 1938 to 1945. On September 27, 1947, Munn made his debut as the Spartans' head coach, playing his former mentor in Ann Arbor. In one of the first football televised football games in the State of Michigan (broadcast on WWJ-TV), Michigan won by a 55–0 score, outgaining the Spartans by 504 yards to 56. The 1947 Michigan team, regarded as one of the best in school history, became known as the "Mad Magicians". Michigan went on to complete back-to-back undefeated seasons in 1947 and 1948.
1950 to 1953: Munn's Spartans win four in a row
For the second time in series history, Michigan State won four consecutive games against Michigan from 1950 to 1954. In these peak years of the "Biggie" Munn era, the Spartans lost only two games in four years. The 1950 team was ranked No. 8 and defeated Michigan, 14–7. The 1951 team was ranked No. 2 and defeated Michigan, 25–0. The undefeated 1952 team won the national championship and defeated Michigan, 27–13. And the 1953 team was ranked No. 3, won the Big Ten championship in its first year of conference play, and defeated Michigan, 14–6.
1956: No. 2 vs. No. 5
In 1956, the teams met with the Spartans ranked No. 2 and the Wolverines ranked No. 5 – the highest combined ranking in series history. After a scoreless first half in which Michigan dominated statistically, turnovers led to two Michigan State scores. In the third quarter, the Spartans intercepted a pass at Michigan's 38-yard line, setting up a 20-yard field goal, and in the fourth quarter, the Spartans recovered a fumble at Michigan's 21-yard line, leading to a Spartan touchdown.
1969: Daugherty defeats Schembechler in his first season
In 1969, Bo Schembechler made his debut as Michigan's head coach. The Wolverines were ranked No. 13 in the AP Poll when they played Duffy Daugherty's Spartans. Led by halfback Don Highsmith (134 rushing yards and two touchdowns on a Big Ten record 30 carries) and quarterback Bill Triplett (143 rushing yards and a touchdown on 18 carries), the Spartans beat Michigan and outgained the Wolverines on the ground by a total of 348 yards to 176. The game was Michigan's only conference loss in 1969.
1978: Ed Smith to Kirk Gibson
In 1978, Michigan was ranked No. 5 when the unranked Spartans visited Ann Arbor. Michigan had won the previous eight series meetings, but quarterback Ed Smith led the Spartans to a 24–15 upset win. Smith passed for 248 yards, including five completions to flanker Kirk Gibson for 82 yards. Michigan State's total of 496 yards (307 in the first half) was the most allowed by a Michigan team since 1961. Michigan quarterback Rick Leach, who had only one interception in Michigan's first four games, threw three in the first half.
1990: "No. One vs. No One"
"No. One vs. No One" was the tag line used for the 1990 game. Michigan came into the game ranked No. 1 in the country. With six seconds left, Elvis Grbac threw a touchdown pass to Derrick Alexander to make it 28–27 Michigan State. Michigan coach Gary Moeller elected to go for a two-point conversion for the win. Grbac threw an incomplete pass to Desmond Howard, but the play was controversial since a Spartan defender appeared to have interfered with Howard. A columnist in The Detroit News wrote: "Michigan State cornerback Eddie Brown had tripped him. No discussion. No debate. It was a clear and obvious foul that a million and one eyes in the stands and on national television could see, but somehow not one single referee in this joint managed to catch a glimpse of." The Wolverines then attempted an onside kick, which they recovered. Grbac scrambled and threw a Hail Mary that was tipped and intercepted to end the game.
1997: Six interceptions en route to national championship
In 1997, ESPN College Gameday broadcast from East Lansing, as No. 5 Michigan defeated No. 15 Michigan State, 23–7. The Wolverines intercepted six Spartan passes, five off Spartan quarterback Todd Schultz. The interceptions included a one-handed catch by eventual 1997 Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson after which he managed to get one foot in bounds on the sideline. Marcus Ray had a pair of interceptions. Michigan completed the season undefeated and was recognized as the national champion in the AP Poll.
2001: "Clockgate" and "Spartan Bob"
In the 2001 game, also known as "Clockgate", Michigan entered the game ranked No. 6 in the nation. With under three minutes left, the Spartans received the ball at midfield, trailing 24–20. A Michigan face mask penalty resulted in 15 yards and an automatic first down. Two plays later, the Wolverines were penalized for having 12 men on the field. Michigan State was incorrectly charged with their final timeout on that play; the Spartans should not have been because of the U-M penalty. With 17 seconds remaining, Michigan State quarterback Jeff Smoker attempted to scramble for a touchdown but was stopped at the one-yard line. The Spartans rushed to the line and spiked the ball, ostensibly with one second remaining on the clock. On the next play, Smoker threw a touchdown pass to T. J. Duckett to win the game, 26–24.
Michigan coaches, players, and the ABC broadcasters argued that the clock should have expired before the final play and that the timekeeper, "Spartan Bob" Stehlin, purposely stopped the clock before the ball was grounded. Michigan commentator Frank Beckmann speculated that Michigan State had benefited from its home-field advantage, even calling the unfolding controversy "criminal". As a result of the game, the Big Ten changed its timekeeping policy for the 2002 season, requiring that time be kept on the field by a neutral official.
2004: Braylon Edwards leads the comeback
Despite being an underdog on the road in Ann Arbor, unranked Michigan State built up a 27–10 lead in the 4th quarter against #12 ranked Michigan. The Wolverines eventually awoke and added a 24 yard field goal by Garrett Rivas to cut the MSU lead to 14. Michigan recovered the ensuing onside kick and went down the field to make it a 27–20 MSU lead after a 36-yard touchdown reception by Braylon Edwards. Michigan's defense was able to force an MSU punt and once again, Edwards demonstrated late game heroics with an iconic 21-yard touchdown catch to knot the score at 27–27. Michigan scored 17 points in less than four minutes. A potential MSU game-winning field goal attempt fell short and the game went into overtime for the first time in series history. The teams traded field goals and touchdowns in the first two overtime periods, respectively. Another touchdown reception by Edwards and a successful two-point conversion put Michigan ahead, 45–37. MSU failed to answer with a touchdown and Michigan's comeback was complete with a 45–37 victory in triple overtime. Edwards amassed 189 yards receiving along with three touchdowns. Michigan's true freshman quarterback Chad Henne threw for 273 yards and four touchdowns.
2007: The "little brother" game
The 2007 game marked Michigan's sixth straight win over Michigan State. The Wolverines once again narrowly won with a comeback in the fourth quarter, winning 28–24. Michigan quarterback Chad Henne led two touchdown drives in the final 7:35 of the game, completing touchdown passes to Greg Mathews and Mario Manningham, to lead the Wolverines back from a 24–14 deficit. Henne finished the game with 18 completions for 211 yards and four touchdowns, while Manningham had eight receptions for 129 yards and two touchdowns. After the game, the Michigan team held a "moment of silence" for Michigan State, a response to Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio making a comment about taking a "moment of silence" for Michigan after their embarrassing upset loss to Appalachian State at the beginning of the season.
In a post-game interview, Michigan running back Mike Hart referred to the Spartans as the Wolverines' "little brother." "I was just laughing,” Hart said of Michigan State taking the lead. "I thought it was funny. They got excited. Sometimes you get your little brother excited when you’re playing basketball, and you let him get the lead, and then you come back and take it back." Mark Dantonio later responded to Hart's comment: "I find a lot of the things they do amusing. They need to check themselves sometimes. But just remember, pride comes before the fall... This game is an important game. So they want to mock us all they want to mock us, I'm telling them: it's not over. So they can print that crap all they want all over their locker room. It's not over. It'll never be over here. It's just starting... I'm going to be a coach here for a long time. It's not over. It's just starting.".
2008: Dantonio's promise kept -- "Pride Comes Before The Fall"
In 2008, Michigan scored on a pass to running back Brandon Minor, who was only able to get one foot on a pylon. The pass was initially called incomplete, but the play was reviewed and incorrectly ruled a touchdown. During halftime, ABC-TV displayed the NCAA rule on the broadcast screen and concluded that the replay official was incorrect in awarding the touchdown to Michigan; ABC indicated officials on the field had been correct in originally ruling the play incomplete. The Commissioner of the Big Ten later acknowledged that the call was wrong. The two teams traded touchdowns for much of the game before the Spartans finally pulled away in the fourth quarter, winning 35–21. Starting with the victory in 2008, Dantonio led the Spartans to victories in seven of the next eight games.
2012: Gibbons' field goal as time runs out
In 2012, the Wolverines defeated the Spartans, 12–10, for the first Michigan victory since 2007. Michigan did not score a touchdown but kicked four field goals. Michigan led, 9–7, in the fourth quarter, but the Spartans ran a fake punt on fourth-and-nine from their own 30-yard line. The gamble paid off, and the Spartans kicked a field goal to go up 10–9. Michigan was forced punt the ball away with four minutes left, but the Michigan defense forced a three-and-out and they got the ball back at their own 39 with 2:11 left. Denard Robinson completed a 20-yard pass on fourth down to advance to the Spartans' 25-yard line, With nine seconds left, Michigan spiked the ball and Brendan Gibbons lined up to kick a potential game-winning field goal. Mark Dantonio called time out to ice the kicker, but Gibbons split the uprights to win it for Michigan, 12–10. After the game, the students rushed the field in celebration. This was the 900th all-time win for the Wolverines, making them the first program to reach this level in college football history.
2013: −48 rushing yards
On November 2, 2013, in East Lansing, Michigan State dominated Michigan defensively, winning 29–6. Michigan QB Devin Gardner was sacked seven times and Michigan accumulated the fewest rushing yards for a game in its entire history (−48 yards). The Spartans held the Wolverines to their lowest point total in the series since 1967, the last time Michigan State had won by more than 20 points. This was the second game in a row that Michigan failed to score a touchdown against Michigan State. This game marked MSU's fifth win of the previous six games in the series.
2014: The stake game
On October 25, 2014, as they were coming onto the East Lansing field prior to the game, the Michigan team drove a stake into the turf, angering the Spartans. Michigan finally scored its first touchdown against MSU in three years with just 3:40 remaining in the game, but, after Michigan made the 2-point conversion, Michigan State marched downfield and scored a final touchdown with 0:28 remaining. This was notable because four of the previous six games ended with the Spartans taking a knee inside the Michigan red zone, instead of adding a final score. In his postgame press conference, Mark Dantonio referenced the stake incident in explaining the decision to add a final touchdown.
2015: Trouble with the snap
On October 17, 2015, the game was played in Ann Arbor for the first time since 2012. The #12 Wolverines, led by first-year coach Jim Harbaugh, entered the game 5–1. The #7 Spartans came into the game 6–0. This was the first meeting of coaches Mark Dantonio and Harbaugh. Michigan scored first and never trailed all the way until the final play of the game. Late in the 4th quarter, with the Wolverines leading 23–21, Michigan State drove into field goal range, but a sack pushed them outside the 40. They failed to convert on 4th and long, giving Michigan the ball and seemingly the victory. However, with 10 seconds left in the game, Michigan was faced with a 4th and short and decided to punt. Michigan State pressured with all 11 defenders while Michigan sent players downfield to cover the punt. The numeric mismatch on the line allowed easy penetration while the Wolverine long-snapper quick-snapped a low ball bobbled by the punter. Michigan punter Blake O'Neill had trouble with the snap, the ball was free and picked up by Michigan State’s Jalen Watts-Jackson, and he scored on the last play of the game. Michigan State did not lead at any point in the game until time expired, but they outgained Michigan in the contest 386 to 230 yards.
2017: The first night game
On October 7, 2017, Michigan and Michigan State met for the first night in series history. The game was held in Ann Arbor and broadcast by ABC, Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit on the call. Michigan came into the game ranked No. 7 in the AP Poll and 4–0 on the season. The Michigan State Spartans came into the game unranked at 3–1 on the season, with their only loss at that point to Notre Dame in East Lansing. After an early Wolverine field goal, Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke ran 13 yards for a touchdown and later threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to Madre London to give the Spartans a 14–3 lead at halftime. The second half was played in heavy rain and winds. Michigan State forced five turnovers (two fumbles and three interceptions) in the game. Michigan scored a touchdown in the third quarter and attempted a Hail Mary pass in the closing seconds, but a deflection by MSU's Joe Bachie in the endzone cemented the Spartans' 14–10 win. The win was the Spartans' eighth in 10 games against Michigan. Michigan finished the season unranked, while Michigan State was ranked No. 15 in the final AP poll.
2018: Pregame skirmish
On October 20, 2018, Michigan defeated Michigan State, 21-7. The Wolverines gained 395 yards and held the Spartans to 94 yards. The Spartans were late in conducting their traditional pregame walk down the field, and when they did so several Michigan players had already taken the field for warmups. The Spartans walked, arms linked, through the Michigan players, resulting in a skirmish. After the Spartans left the field, Michigan linebacker Devin Bush tore up the Spartans' midfield logo with his cleats. After the game, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh claimed the Spartans close-lined one Michigan player and ripped the headphones off another and added: "Total bush league. Apparently, coach Dantonio was five yards behind it all smiling." Michigan State coach Dantonio referred to Harbaugh's comments as "BS". The Big Ten issued a $10,000 fine against Michigan State, having found that the Spartans violated the conference's sportsmanship policy by walking across the field with linked arms and initiating contact with multiple Michigan players "who were legitimately on the field". The conference also reprimanded Dantonio for "failing to take action to mitigate a foreseeable conflict from occurring". Devin Bush was also reprimanded for grinding his cleats into the Spartan logo, as was Harbaugh for his post-game comments. For their parts in the incident, Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press referred to Harbaugh and Dantonio as "the new Bo and Woody".
Accomplishments by the two rivals
As of January 1, 2020.
|Postseason bowl record||21–27 (0.438)||13–16 (0.448)|
|Rose Bowl appearances||20||5|
|Rose Bowl wins||8||4|
|Big Ten Championship Game appearances||0||3|
|Big Ten Championship Game wins||0||2|
|Big Ten titles||42||9|
|All-time program record||962–346–36||708–465–44|
|Michigan victories||Michigan State victories||Tie games|
- Michigan–Michigan State men's basketball rivalry
- Michigan–Michigan State men's ice hockey rivalry
- Michigan–Michigan State women's basketball rivalry
- Michigan–Michigan State men's soccer rivalry
- List of NCAA college football rivalry games
- List of most-played college football series in NCAA Division I
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In the 'Clock Game' of 2001, Michigan fans swear time stood still in Spartan Stadium long enough for Michigan State and [T. J.] Duckett to pull off a last-second 26–24 victory. Duckett says that to this day, [his lifelong best friend and fellow Kalamazoo native John] Bradford claims Michigan State didn't really win the game... Frank Beckmann, a longtime radio announcer for Michigan football games, called the clock incident "criminal" on the air.
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Media related to Michigan-Michigan State football rivalry at Wikimedia Commons