Friday, October 6, 2017

Green: How Mike Hart's "Little Brother" comment spawned the modern day rivalry between Michigan State and Michigan

                                                       Photo Credit: Getty Images

On a routine, fall afternoon in East Lansing, Michigan, fresh off a close call and their sixth straight win in the series in a 28-24 decision over the Michigan State Spartans on Nov. 3, 2007, the Michigan Wolverines looked to be the teflon dons for the foreseeable future.

Sometimes, the script can go awry and in Michigan running back Mike Hart's case, calling out Michigan State as "little brother" in the locker room ignited a fuse in a then one-sided rivalry, which gave the green and white bulletin board material for the 2008 edition of the series.

For Michigan, it was exit Lloyd Carr, enter Rich Rodriguez as the head coach. Little did Wolverine fans know that his spread offense would struggle as they were accustomed to the pro-style offense and physical play that served as the benchmark for decades before.

Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio came into the 2008 meeting against Michigan in need of a program-defining win to begin the process of pitching potential recruits to the school considered little brother. 

Dantonio got what he wanted and more as quarterback Brian Hoyer led the Spartans to a 35-21 stunner over a down Wolverines club, which finished 3-9 for the season. Even with a down Michigan team, Michigan State's win signaled the beginning of a new era in the rivalry.

Most fans and even media members did not see a Spartan dominated rivalry for seven of the next eight seasons coming.

As Michigan State began to rack up victories, the better it became in maximizing its recruits and the bowl game trips grew from the land of ramen noodles in the Alamo to the filet mignon of the Cotton Bowl in the 2016 College Football Playoff semifinals.

Michigan's beauty began to fade into the background as it failed to make bowl games in 2008, 09 and 14 and has not sniffed the Big Ten Championship game or a share of the regular season conference title in the stretch of Michigan State's dominance.

Despite picking up its second win in the series over Michigan State since 2008 last season, Michigan has plenty of demons to exercise as it looks to win back-to-back games in the series for the first time since winning six straight from 2002-07.

For starters, the 2015 game at Michigan Stadium produced the now infamous botch from punter Blake O’Neill, which gave Michigan State an improbable game-winning return by Jalen Watts-Jackson as time expired. Michigan will look to come as close as possible to erasing its past in Michigan Stadium on Saturday night.

For Michigan, little brother served them tons of slices of humble pie and now we will find out whether it has learned from its past defeats.