Thomas: Michigan State, opponent of many, rival of none

Rivalry weekend is an amazing weekend to be a college football fan. Across the country, college football teams line up against their biggest rivals. Some of these contests are more lopsided recently, with the Georgia-Georgia Tech or Clemson-South Carolina games coming to mind, but the hate is still strong between the two teams. And in most of these regular season finale contests, the records simply don’t matter. Minnesota-Wisconsin, Oklahoma-Oklahoma State, Alabama-Auburn, the rivalries are fierce, the games are classics, and the college football fan is content to sit on their couch and watch some of the most intensely contested games of the season.

Of course, there’s the greatest rivalry of them all as well. Often the site of College Gameday that weekend, Michigan and Ohio State do battle at the end of each regular season. The hate between these two teams is unmatched, so much that Ohio State, and indeed much of the state of Ohio, replaces the letter “M” with a giant ‘X’ in all signs and tweets leading up to the game. But then what about the hate between Michigan and Michigan State? Well, as much as the Spartans would like you to believe this is a true rivalry, it quite simply has not been, and it likely never will be. Michigan States’ rivalry-weekend match-up? It varies; last year it was Maryland, the two years prior it was Rutgers – a couple of cellar-dwelling Big 10 teams for Michigan State to beat up on while their hated rivals goes and plays their biggest game of the year with someone else. 

Michigan States’ inability to get a true rivalry-weekend match-up, or even a rivalry with anybody, goes well beyond the Michigan saga. If you look up Michigan State rivals, you get a list of just four teams: Michigan, Notre Dame, Indiana, and Penn State. Not an inspiring list, especially considering every single one of these teams has bigger rivals.
The Spartans’ biggest hope comes in Penn State, another team who may lack a true rival. But the Nittany Lions don’t care, often proclaiming themselves as their biggest rivals, competing against the premier Penn State teams of previous decades. Plus, Penn State has big games closer to home in Pitt and Maryland, a more historic rivalry in Nebraska, and a budding rivalry with Ohio State. They don’t need Michigan State. 

How about Notre Dame? There’s been some big games, and there is no doubt about that, but Michigan State has tried to fuel this rivalry far more than Notre Dame, and it’s hard to do that when you have a .373 winning percentage against them. The Spartans’ planted their flag at Notre Dame’s home stadium after a 2005 win, and they won in 2010 on the infamous “Little Giant” fake field goal. But, Notre Dame has their rivalries with USC and Michigan, their uninterrupted series with Navy, and the Holy War with BC. In a recent survey of their student body, Notre Dame didn’t even vote for the Spartans as one of their top-6 rivals. Ouch. They clearly don’t need Michigan State. 

Indiana? To be honest, even if Michigan State could consider Indiana a rival, it wouldn’t be saying much. The Hoosiers are far more known for their basketball prowess, and they have not ever really been particularly relevant in football. They have never eclipsed nine wins in a season, and they haven’t even reached that mark since 1967. Plus, Indiana has their own in-state rivalry with Purdue, so even they’ve got bigger fish to fry than the Spartans. If that’s Michigan State’s best rival, it’s a pretty sad one for a big-name program with six national championships. 

And that brings the list full circle to Michigan. The Wolverines will call Michigan State “Little Brother” and for good reason. Despite some recent success in the series, the Spartans are just 36-71 against Michigan, good for a .344 winning percentage. It’s embarrassing, and it’s more embarrassing because they’re not even Michigan’s biggest game of the year. They sometimes aren’t even second, as you can debate whether the Notre Dame versus Michigan rivalry is a bigger one too. 

Michigan State has had success on the field, and under current coach Mark Dantonio, they’ve been in the Top 5 in four different seasons. But seemingly no success will make Michigan State relevant unless something drastic changes. 

They can plant a flag at Notre Dame Stadium. They can fuel their hatred for Michigan. They can claim that Penn State hates them, or maybe, if they’re desperate, fall back on their ‘rivalry’ with Indiana. But come rivalry weekend, Michigan State will be in Maryland, or hosting Rutgers, or playing some other low-level Big 10 team, desperately searching for a team that will hate them back. 

February 18, 2020: NCAA Basketball Power Rankings

One of the raging debates in our Power Rankings is who is better: Kansas or Baylor. Although Baylor, and their road win over Kansas, has the better resume, our ballots reflect a split on who we believe is the more talented team. Those debates could be put to rest when these two powerhouses, undoubtedly the class of the Big 12, square off for one more regular season match-up. For now, our rankings continue to reflect a lot of turmoil, as a tough week from Louisville sent them plummeting, but for the second straight week, four teams got first-place votes. Check out the biggest fallers, risers, and then the full Power Rankings below.

Biggest Risers: Dayton, Maryland

Biggest Faller: Louisville 

Joined the Rankings: Penn State, Kentucky, 

Dropped Out: West Virginia, Seton Hall

Honorable Mention

  • Villanova
  • Penn State
  • Kentucky 

#10 – Louisville Cardinals (Last Week: 4) 

  • The week before, Louisville slid from the #2 slot to #4 after a shaky home win against lowly Wake Forest. A general feeling that the Cardinals were slipping manifested itself in two ugly losses this past week, losing on the road to a bad Georgia Tech team and then being manhandled by an unranked Clemson team that is just 13-12 on the year. The enormous struggles resulted in a 6-spot slip for Louisville, who hosts Syracuse and UNC this week with a chance to regroup. 

#9 – Auburn Tigers (Last Week: 9)

  • Auburn has an amazing ability to win close games, as they demonstrated with yet another overtime victory versus Alabama this week, at the time their third extra-time win in a row. However, the clutch Tigers followed it up with a miserable showing in Missouri, dropping an 85-73 decision that drops Auburn one spot this week. They’re still in second in the ACC and have just three losses, so they stay in the rankings, but they have to watch these blowout road losses. 

#8 – Maryland Terrapins (Last Week: 10)

  • Maryland was a popular pick to be upset by Michigan State last week, but they handled the Spartans en route to their eighth straight victory, leading them to be our co-biggest riser of the week. The Terrapins are cruising, and they could see themselves rising more in the future if they survive a big road test against Ohio State this weekend. 

#7 – Dayton Flyers (Last week: 9)

  • The other biggest riser of the week, Dayton locked down two more wins last week, taking down a shaky UMass team on the road as well as dismantling Rhode Island, the second-place squad in the Atlantic 10, in a game which the Flyers led by double-digits the whole way. That, combined with a couple losses from Top-10 teams boost the Flyers to #7 in this week’s rankings. 

#6 – Florida State Seminoles (Last Week: 7)

  • FSU beat a decent Syracuse team at home, holding off a valiant comeback from the Orange to stay unbeaten on their home court. The Seminoles are pretty much out of the running for a #1 seed, but a home game versus Louisville gives them a chance to prove themselves once more. They rise up one spot this week, largely due to Louisville’s collapse. 

#5 – San Diego State Aztecs (Last Week: 6)

  • This team refuses to lose, and they tacked on two more impressive victories last week, turning a stiff challenge from New Mexico into a 23-point blowout, and visiting Boise State – a 12-1 team at home – and decimating the Broncos 72-55. They’re the standard in the Mountain West, and it’s not close. This team is for real. 

#4 – Duke Blue Devils (Last Week: 5) – 1 First Place Vote

  • After losing a home contest to Louisville, our podcast spent time discussing whether Duke was in trouble. Since then, Duke has won seven straight including a ranked win over Florida State, a rivalry comeback versus UNC, and two 30+ point victories. Duke had just one game since our last Power Rankings and they manhandled Notre Dame, a team whose last seven losses were by a combined 15 points, by a stunning 94-60 score. This team is looking a serious threat to go all the way. 

#3 – Gonzaga Bulldogs (Last Week: 3) – 1 First Place Vote

  • As per usual, Gonzaga gets a first-place vote, but they are unable to gain ground on their Power-6 counterparts atop the rankings. The Bulldogs played just one game last week and cruised past a solid Pepperdine squad on the road. It was a good victory, but Gonzaga won’t be able to truly prove their legitimacy until the NCAA Tournament. 

#2 – Baylor Bears (Last Week: 2) – 1 First Place Vote

  • The Bears, despite their 23-1 record and 22-game winning streak, stay at #2. Our ballots were split, with two putting them above Kansas, and two placing them below. They got one first-place vote, as did their Big 12 rival, and ultimately a razor-thin 1-point margin separated the squads. The gap should be more definitive after they play each other this weekend. 

#1 – Kansas Jayhawks (Last Week: 1) -1 First Place Vote

  • Once again, the Jayhawks reign supreme in the power rankings. The rankings are based off how good we think the teams are, not necessarily our resume, and, albeit by a tiny margin, our ballots reflect that Kansas is the better team. After a big road win over West Virginia and blowouts versus Oklahoma and Iowa State, the Jayhawks have a chance to back up that belief and improve on their 23-3 record when they visit Baylor this week.

February 4, 2020: NCAA Basketball Power Rankings

We are back with this week’s edition of the NCAA basketball power rankings. Auburn got a huge home win to get back into the conversation, and one other squad climbed back towards the rankings. Two teams dropped out, and while we have the same #1, there was some movement right beneath them. Check out the full rankings here!

Biggest Risers: Dayton, Louisville

Biggest Fallers: Kentucky

Dropped Out: Kentucky, West Virginia

Joined the Rankings: Auburn, Maryland

Honorable Mention

  • Seton Hall
  • Maryland
  • Auburn

The Rankings

#10 – Villanova Wildcats (Last Week: #8)

  • The Wildcats were looking like one of the biggest risers in college basketball, a few games seperated from a 76-61 beatdown of a ranked Butler squad, but then Villanova played an unranked Creighton squad and got throttled by the same score. They stay in the rankings due to how they’ve looked up until that game, but Villanova raised some serious question marks on Saturday. 

#9 – Oregon Ducks (Last Week: #9) 

  • Oregon has stayed at #9 for the past three weeks, and the Ducks had inspired a lot of confidence until their recent slip-up at Stanford. However, one road conference loss can be excused, and the Ducks still appear to be the Pac-12 team to beat. 

#8 – Dayton Flyers (Last Week: #10)

  • Dayton rises two spots after two more victories, surviving one of their toughest road games remaining against Duquesne, a 16-5 team with a previously spotless 9-0 home record. They host dangerous Saint Louis and Rhode Island squads in the next week, so they’ll need to prove themselves to keep rising in the rankings. 

#7- Duke Blue Devils (Last Week: #7)

  • Duke survived a raucous environment to triumph at Syracuse, winning their third straight game since a home loss to Louisville. They have road games versus Boston College and UNC coming up before a home date with Florida State. If they’re looking for a chance to prove they’re one of the country’s elite squads, they’ve got a few opportunities coming up. 

#6 – San Diego State Aztecs (Last Week: #6)

  • In writing about potential trap games for the Aztecs, we identified a tricky-looking road matchup versus New Mexico, who was 13-0 at home prior to the match-up. San Diego State marched into the game and dismantled the Lobos by 28 points, sending yet another notice to the country that they are for real. They survived a potential letdown by pulling away from Utah State. 

#5 – Florida State Seminoles (Last Week: #5)

  • There were mixed reviews among our ballots on how to rank the Seminoles after a close loss to Virginia and tight win over North Carolina, largely because it is difficult to tell exactly how good those teams are. Virginia is starting to round into form and North Carolina just got Cole Anthony back, yet both squads are tournament bubble teams at best. Either way, the Seminoles are still 19-3 and 2nd in the ACC, so they stay at #5 this week. 

#4 – Gonzaga Bulldogs (Last Week: #3) – 1 first place vote

  • Gonzaga deals with questions year-in and year-out about how valid their success is, as they play in the West Coast conference. They didn’t do much to quiet their doubters after needing a go-ahead three-pointer with under five seconds remaining to survive San Francisco. Without signature wins available on the remainder of their schedule, such close calls drop the Bulldogs in the rankings. 

#3 – Kansas Jayhawks (Last Week: #2) 

  • Kansas continues to win, although they’ve had to survive a few stiff challenges. The Jayhawks certainly have a few tough Big 12 games ahead, but there is no doubt they’ve circled the February 22nd rematch with the Baylor Bears. A win there could make Kansas the team to beat.

#2 – Louisville Cardinals (Last Week: #4)

  • One of our biggest risers of the week, the Cardinals continue to win convincingly, having won three straight ACC contests by at least 17 points, including two games on the road. Both BC and NC State gave them a push, but the Cardinals continue to put together full 40-minute efforts. 

#1 – Baylor Bears (Last Week: #1)

  • Baylor raised some eyebrows after escaping Oklahoma at home, but they’ve since made short work of Florida, Iowa State, and TCU, winning all three games by double-digits. They are 20-1 and on a 19-game winning streak, one game shy of the longest winning streak in the history of all Big 12 teams, and they are slowly strengthening their hold on the #1 spot in the rankings.