Spartans seniors aim for Michigan sweep

Joel Foreman can still remember the look on their faces.

Foreman was a redshirt freshman offensive lineman for Michigan State in 2007 when the Spartans lost to Michigan 28-24 at home. It was the sixth straight loss in the series for the guys in green, and another class of seniors went out winless against their rival.

"You could see how much it meant to the seniors, and for them to leave never to have beaten Michigan," Foreman told ESPN.com, "it was pretty impacting, seeing how it affected them and how much they wanted to do that and weren’t able to."

The expressions could be very different this Saturday.

Michigan State has won the past three games against Michigan and has a chance for its first four-game winning streak in the Paul Bunyan Trophy game since 1959-62. The Spartans have only won four straight against the Wolverines three times in their history, the other two streaks coming from 1950-53 and 1934-37. Maybe most importantly, a whole group of seniors, including Foreman, can say they never lost to Michigan during their playing careers.

“It would mean a lot to me and my senior class," safety Trenton Robinson said. "It hasn’t been done in a long, long, long time, so to do something that hasn’t been done is always a good feeling. It would change the tide in Michigan and let everyone know that Michigan State is here and here to stay.”

The Spartans have already accomplished one milestone this season. In their last game, they beat Ohio State 10-7 for their first win in Columbus since 1998. With two dozen players on the roster from the state of Ohio, that was an emotional and important victory for the program.

And yet, Foreman said the players hadn't even gotten to their locker room after that win before talk started turning toward Michigan. This is, after all, the in-state rivalry, and Michigan is the team they have to hear about all year long.

"It's personal," quarterback Kirk Cousins said. "It's very personal. I grew up in Michigan, so it means a lot to me and I take it very, very seriously. We talk about this as a streets versus alleys game. If you beat Michigan, you can walk the streets. If you lose, you walk in the alleys."

Michigan State has been walking tall for the past three years. Nowhere is that more evident than on the left arm of Jerel Worthy. The junior defensive tackle showed up for fall camp this year with a new tattoo, which depicts a Spartan warrior stepping on the fallen body of a football player with a block "M" on his helmet. It's not exactly subtle.

The tattoo attracted a lot of media attention this summer, and now Michigan players will see it up close for the first time. What does Worthy expect the reaction to be?

"They're not going to be happy about it," he said. "I'm sure those guys will be riled up and ready to go. It's a little more incentive for those guys. But everybody is already going to be amped up."

Of course, Michigan's top rival has always been Ohio State. The Wolverines measure themselves against the Buckeyes and sometimes see themselves as better than their neighbors in East Lansing. Former Michigan running back Mike Hart infamously referred to Michigan State as "Little Brother" after the 2007 win.

"Little Brother," though, hasn't lost to the supposed bigger brother since then. There's no question this year that the game matters to the Maize and Blue, as first-year coach Brady Hoke installed a countdown clock to both the Michigan State and Ohio State games at Schembechler Hall. The Spartans believe they have made people stand up and notice.

"A lot of people in Michigan are Michigan fans," Robinson said. "That’s how it was. I know it’s not the same any more. They’re like, ‘OK, Michigan State is here. They’re playing and they’re winning.’”

They've won three straight in this all-important rivalry. A fourth victory Saturday would create some pretty memorable expressions.