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OSU isn't MSU's top rival, but it's a special matchup

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Shilique Calhoun rushes the Ohio State line during last year's MSU-OSU game, won by the Buckeyes, 49-37.

Chicago – Rivalries are one of the endearing qualities of college football.

Some date back a century or more while others crop up every few years, often between teams battling for championships.

At Michigan State, nothing will change the fact Michigan is always the biggest rival – even with the Spartans winning six of the last seven in the series.

But as Michigan State enters the season as the No. 6 team in the country, there is another obvious rival – Ohio State. No. 1-ranked OSU is the defending national champion and the unanimous pick to beat out the Spartans for the Big Ten East title and earn a second straight trip to the conference title game.

However, it was Michigan State that handed Ohio State its only loss to a Big Ten opponent in the last three seasons, a 34-24 victory in the 2013 conference championship game. And the two teams appear to be headed for another winner-take-all type of game on Nov. 21 in Columbus.

That, alone, helps stoke a rivalry, but the fact so many Michigan State players hail from the state of Ohio – coach Mark Dantonio included – makes it all the more unique.

And it created an interesting discussion at the Big Ten media days on Thursday.

"It's a rivalry because for me because I'm from Ohio," said Dantonio, a native of Zanesville and the defensive coordinator for Ohio State's 2002 national championship team. "We have so many players from Ohio on our football team, I think 27 last year. So it sort of comes with the territory at Michigan State. So it is, for us, a rivalry. I have deep respect for what they've done down there. I was a part of that back in the early 2000s and I respect that tradition very, very much."

One of those players from Ohio is quarterback Connor Cook. The three-star recruit from Hinckley has an appreciation for playing the Buckeyes he didn't always have.

And he credits the way his teammates from Michigan approach the annual meeting with the Wolverines.

"I think experiencing the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry has made me look at it in a different way," Cook said. "The way I feel for Ohio State is the way guys from Michigan on our roster feel about Michigan. So, guys like Lawrence Thomas from Detroit, a Michigan State fan his whole life, now I know how he feels, and I never really understood that. I obviously always disliked Michigan because of the rivalry but never really felt it until I played in that game.

"But I know a lot of people going to Ohio State and I don't know people who go to Michigan -- but they do. It obviously adds to it."

The Spartans also see themselves in the Buckeyes. Dantonio likened last year's champions to the 2013 Michigan State team that overcame an early loss and personnel issues to win the Rose Bowl and finish in the top five in the nation.

"What I've seen in Ohio State this last year, which to me is one of the greatest things I can say about a program, is when they've had problems and were able overcome those problems," Dantonio said. "With that adversity it made them stronger. And I think that's what ultimately won them the national championship. They were a better team in November than they were at the beginning of the season. And I think that was a result of them not panicking, being able to stay the course, adjust, move forward. Here's a problem, move forward, which is what we did in '13."

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

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