Asked to identify the most heated game on the 2010 Big Ten slate, I was a bit stumped. Don't get me wrong, the Big Ten is loaded with long-standing rivalries as well as several great new ones. Ohio State-Michigan always will get the blood boiling on both sides. So will Wisconsin-Minnesota, Michigan-Michigan State, Purdue-Indiana, Penn State-Ohio State and, in recent years, Iowa-Penn State.
But we're looking for 2010 games that have a little something extra. Think Texas-Nebraska this fall at Memorial Stadium. There's bad blood there, especially after recent events. In Lincoln, they're already getting ready for the Longhorns.
Maybe the Big Ten is too damn civil these days, but the key figures in this league seem to like each other too much. We need a good coaching spat -- the Danny Hope-Rich Rodriguez exchange last season was entertaining, albeit not overly memorable -- or some trash talk between players. Could we get a coach running up the score on a rival, please? The SEC and Big 12 can't have all the fun.
One game this season certain to have some added fuel pairs Michigan and Michigan State on Oct. 9 at the Big(ger) House. The in-state rivalry always has some juice, but this year's matchup brings a little extra. Since Mike Hart's "little brother" comment after Michigan's 2007 win at Spartan Stadium, Michigan State has grown up a bit on the field.
The Spartans have won back-to-back games against Michigan for the first time since winning three straight from 1965 to 67. They claimed last year's contest in dramatic fashion, prevailing in overtime after squandering a 14-point, fourth-quarter lead in all too familiar fashion.
Suddenly, Michigan State is the team that has gone bowling in each of the last three seasons, while Michigan has spent back-to-back winters at home after making 33 consecutive bowl appearances. Spartans seniors like Greg Jones can finish their careers 3-1 against Michigan with a win this fall.
Like any in-state rivalry, Michigan-Michigan State affects the local recruiting scene. By any measure, Michigan State has upgraded its in-state recruiting efforts under Mark Dantonio, landing prospects like Edwin Baker, Larry Caper, William Gholston and Lawrence Thomas (2011 verbal). There's a perception held by some that the Spartans have surpassed Michigan in local recruiting, although Michigan has focused much of its efforts on other areas while still bringing in elite local prospects like William Campbell, Devin Gardner and Brennen Beyer (2011 verbal).
But to be considered the state's elite program, Michigan can't keep losing to the Spartans. Rodriguez needs to win this fall to keep his job, and this is the type of game that can build some much-needed goodwill from the Michigan brass. He doesn't want to be the first coach to drop consecutive home games to Michigan State since Bump Elliott in 1965 and 1967. Michigan's small senior class doesn't want to finish with a losing record against the Spartans.
Bottom line: there's plenty at stake Oct. 9. Regardless of the temperature, things will be hot inside the Big House. This game doesn't need trash talk or billboards, although I wouldn't be opposed to either.
Paging Mike Hart ...