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What is at risk during the Michigan football game The l……

What’s at stake as Michigan football battles Michigan State at site of last Big Ten loss

Wolverines 25-2 since losing battle of top-10 teams in 2021

Cornelius Johnson #6 of the Michigan Wolverines plays against the Michigan State Spartans at Spartan Stadium on October 30, 2021 in East Lansing, Michigan.
Cornelius Johnson #6 of the Michigan Wolverines plays against the Michigan State Spartans at Spartan Stadium on October 30, 2021 in East Lansing, Michigan. (Gregory Shamus, 2021 Getty Images)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – It’s been 720 days since Michigan lost a football game that wasn’t in the playoff, and on Saturday, the Wolverines return to East Lansing for the first time since that day.

On Oct. 30, 2021, No. 6 Michigan and No. 8 Michigan State met for what ended up being another fabulous chapter in this rivalry. Both teams were undefeated and eyeing a spot in the College Football Playoff, and the game went down to the final drive — what more could anyone ask for?

It’s hard to remember it now — Michigan has won 25 of 27 games since — but after the Spartans stormed back from a 16-point deficit to win, the narrative surrounding Jim Harbaugh’s team was that it had, once again, choked on a big stage.

That was before Harbaugh had beaten Ohio State. Before Michigan ended the Big Ten title drought. Before competing for playoff spots each and every season became the norm.

Fans might not like to think back to those darker times. But I can guarantee Harbaugh and his players remember.

Michigan State is an average football team this season. The Spartans should probably be at least 3-3, if not 4-2 (MSU outplayed Iowa and dominated Rutgers for all but a disastrous five-minute stretch). But Michigan is better on paper, and because of that, the game doesn’t have much national juice.

But for Michigan, the stakes are still extraordinarily high. This isn’t just a chance to improve to 8-0 and keep its national championship hopes alive — it’s a chance to assert its dominance at the scene of the program’s last conference loss.

Spartan Stadium has been a house of horrors for the Wolverines. But there’s never been a better chance to go in and conquer it — with authority.

On the opposite sideline, the stakes for Michigan State are obvious.

At 2-4, the Spartans have to find a way to win four of their final six games to get to a bowl — that means upsetting at least one of the conference’s top dogs: Michigan, Ohio State, or Penn State.

Nothing has gone right for the MSU football program this year: from losing close games to players entering the transfer portal to the Mel Tucker situation. There’s no way to erase everything that’s happened, but there is one way to make it all feel better: ruining Michigan’s season.

If Michigan State can upset what appears to be one of the best Michigan teams ever, nobody will care about the prestige of MSU’s bowl game at the end of the season. It would be one of the biggest upsets in the history of this rivalry and probably talked just as much as the “trouble with the snap” game in 2015.

There might not be many eyeballs on this game across the country, and even the crowd at the game could be a bit muted. But Saturday night in East Lansing won’t be about Tucker. Or the NCAA investigation into Michigan stealing signs. Or what happened in the tunnel of last year’s game.

It’s about beating a rival, avenging past wrongs, securing bragging rights for an entire year. The stakes for Michigan-Michigan State are always high, and this year’s no different.

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