Remember when Jim Harbaugh was hired at Michigan? How could you not? Scores of mouth-breathing Michigan fans took to the internet and social media to proclaim their team was back. Harbaugh was finally going to right the ship that slammed into the iceberg over a decade ago. Even ESPN got into the act declaring Harbaugh the second coming of Christ. One analyst even predicted Michigan would, at the very least, beat Ohio State or Michigan State in Jimmy’s first year. Well, that didn’t happen. In fact, Harbaugh lost to Sparty in spectacular fashion and Michigan suffered their worst defeat by the Buckeyes since Rich Rod was their head coach. Yes, that’s right, even Brady Hoke was more competitive against Ohio State than Harbaugh has been so far.
But this of course is not a secret. While the prayers of Michigan fans were answered, and their prodigal son returned home to lead their team, many in the college football landscape began to prophesize of another “ten year war” between the two schools. Woody and Bo – Meyer and Harbaugh – given the state of how long coaches stay in one place this day and age, this would at the very least be a five year war. But yes, yes, finally a coaching battle worthy of the memories of great men. This would be the next great college football war. The only problem, the Buckeyes, specifically Urban Meyer, were already in the middle of their great war. It was college football’s forgotten war, but for the past four years it’s been the best battle in all of sports. And it’s just getting started.
Enter Michigan State. In all the nonsense and hype surrounding Michigan and Harbaugh, someone forgot to pay attention to Michigan State. No one has noticed that Mark Dantonio forgot that he is supposed to be afraid of Urban Meyer. They didn’t notice that in four years as Ohio State’s head coach, Urban Meyer only has four losses, and two of those came at the hands of Dantonio. The only two games Meyer has lost in the Big Ten have been to Michigan State. And when the Buckeyes have beaten Michigan State, it doesn’t come easy. In fact, over the past four years, the average margin of victory in this rivalry is only 6.5 points. That’s a far cry from beating your “real” rival by 29 points during their savior’s first year on the job.
The wins for Sparty aren’t unique to on the field. Urban Meyer is considered by many to be the very best recruiter in college football. For those of you that don’t follow recruiting, all you need to know is that it is simply the most important part of a college coach’s job. Period. No one can argue that, and, with that in mind, feel free to take a look at the Michigan State roster. You’ll find no less than 26 kids from the great state of Ohio. Again, if you don’t follow recruiting you have no idea why that’s significant. Ohio is one of the best states in the country for High School football, thus, it’s loaded with kids that were born ready to play major division one college football. Recruiting Ohio has long been priority number one not just for the Ohio State head coach, but every head coach in the Big Ten and major programs across the country.
It’s no coincidence that Michigan State’s success against Ohio State and in general can be directly traced to their success on the recruiting trail. While Michigan tries to artificially inflate the resume and size of its coach, Michigan State quietly goes about kicking everyone’s ass. While the talking heads, alumni and fan bases drum up another ten year war between Michigan and Ohio State, Michigan State has masterfully and nonchalantly planted their flag atop not only the Big Ten but college football in general. Buckeye fans (and more importantly Urban Meyer) better wake up and realize the war they’re fearing or expecting from the state of Michigan has already begun. Battles have been won and lost on both sides and the arms race on the recruiting trail will never slow down. If the Buckeyes want to continue their 15 year dominance over Michigan, they better prepare to beat Michigan State every year.