MSU quarterback Kirk Cousin is getting ready for the big game vs. Notre Dame on Saturday. (Dale G. Young/The Detroit News)
Everyone else can hype up the big rivalries such as Michigan-Massachusetts and Ohio State-Ohio, but for unadulterated, tension-packed, beer-soaked madness, give me Michigan State-Notre Dame. And put it under the lights at Spartan Stadium. And tell both teams their early season credibility is at stake.
This should be great, based on the fact it usually is. After years of contemplation, I've decided this is what Notre Dame is good for: To give others an inflated sense of self-worth.
Just look at how the Wolverines feel these days, after stunning the Irish and clinching the Heisman Trophy for Denard "Flopping Shoelaces" Robinson. I'm joking about clinching the Heisman, of course. (No I'm not ... yes I am).
But now, Michigan is 2-0 and ranked, and if Michigan State does the same thing to poor Notre Dame, it'll be 3-0 and possibly ranked, and no one will even mention its lame schedule and the hideous victory over Florida Atlantic. There's no reason to overstate the importance of this Michigan State-Notre Dame game, but I'll do it anyway.
Here are the biggest subplots, in no particular order:
This is the Spartans' chance to grab some glory and reinforce their lifetime status as the Big Ten's Perpetually Possibly Awakening Giant. It won't be easy because the Irish still possess sealed baggies of magic dust, the good stuff you can't buy on the Internet.
They had a miraculous 95-yard touchdown against Michigan last week, and also scored despite their receiver dropping the ball to celebrate long before crossing the goal line. So let me get this straight: The Lions don't get a touchdown when Calvin Johnson cradles the ball with every significant body part touching the ground, but Notre Dame gets a touchdown when TJ Jones skips into the end zone as the ball bounces 25 yards behind him?
That's something for the Spartans to consider Saturday night. Crazy things happen in this series, even though -- unbeknownst to many -- Michigan State frequently pounds Notre Dame, winning nine of the past 13. Last year, the Spartans were all set to smite the Irish before Cousins threw a crushing interception with 57 seconds left that never, ever gets brought up anymore. Noooo. Never.
Notre Dame won 33-30, one of the highlights of Charlie Weis' final season, before the school finally decided to go in a different direction and replace all the broken couch springs in the coach's office. The Irish also won a 40-37 thriller four years ago in a night-time monsoon at Spartan Stadium. They wiped out a 16-point deficit in the fourth quarter, which had to be the worst moment of quarterback Drew Stanton's career (until he was drafted by the Lions).
This historic rivalry goes back to the famous 10-10 tie in 1966, when Ara Parseghian had the Irish wimpily run out the clock to preserve their No. 1 ranking. That was one of the early instances of Notre Dame thoroughly annoying college football fans, even before the insufferable scamp Rudy showed up.
Now, the Irish have the free-wheeling, no-huddling, spread-preaching Kelly, who has won in all sorts of small places but has to show he can be a heavyweight at Notre Dame. (In different ways than his predecessor).
Dantonio, meanwhile, has to prove Michigan State isn't just muddling around again, stuck between sort-of-good and potentially fraudulent. I don't know where the Spartans season is headed, but I do know if they want to beat the Irish, they'd better stomp on them right up until the final whistle is blown -- hours before the final keg stand is performed.
The pick: Michigan State 44-38 (3OT)