First, let’s all go back to high school and define the relationship: Ohio State-Michigan is bigger because it involves the two most elite teams in the Big Ten.
Hence OSU-MSU becoming elevated when the Wolverines were down, a time that included a few lazy dumb columns comparing that game to The Game, too.
But it’s no coincidence Michigan and Michigan State have pretty much never been great at the same time (MSU’s previous golden age was in the 1960s, when Michigan was also down and so was Ohio State for a few years).
There’s not enough room for three powerhouses in these two states.
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There aren’t enough players in Michigan to go around, which is not coincidentally why Michigan relies heavily on players from elsewhere, too.
Ohio State-Michigan also evolved into what it is because it is the last game of the regular season.
Aside from whatever personal animosity there is between fans who are all-too-familiar with each other, the stakes are almost always high for one team if not both when the season finale rolls around.
There’s a certain finality that ratchets up the intensity, sears in the flavor and leaves bruises that often last until spring if not longer. And that’s just for the fans.
But you probably already knew all that.
People who can think realize history does matter in college football. In fact, history is what makes the sport what it is.
That’s why I always shake my head when someone tries to suggest something else could be as prolific as the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry now when it wasn’t before.
That’s not how this works.
This didn’t become the preeminent rivalry in the sport because of a handful of games here or there or because people like me wrote it should be.
It did so because two states, not one, were irrestitably drawn into its power.
And because those teams happened to be better than everyone else most of the time, those two programs have been getting the sports world to stop what it’s doing and watch winged helmets collide with silver ones for three hours or so that one Saturday every November for decades.
This is also funny because the rivalry helped make Michigan’s current coach*, whom I’ve never heard asked about guaranteeing a win over the Spartans.
*You know who else it created? Jim Harbaugh’s coach, Bo Schembechler.
And then there’s also Michigan State’s current coach.... who grew up an Ohio State fan, matured into a head coach candidate an an assistant at Ohio State and then built the Spartans in the image of, well, Ohio State.
But even that only really worked because Michigan abdicated its share of the Big Ten throne for a while.
The Wolverines haven’t gotten back to the summit yet, but they’ve already restored the luster of that game at the end of the season against Ohio State.
That it took so little for that to happen should be all you need to know.