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Mark Dantonio took the high road. For the most part.
In his weekly meeting with the media Tuesday in East Lansing, Mich., the seventh-year coach of the Michigan State football team expressed his respect for Michigan coach Brady Hoke. But Dantonio clarified the vein of his respect.
“I will say this,” Dantonio said. “You guys can print all this. Just because you like someone in the family doesn’t mean you like the whole family.”
The No. 24 Spartans host the No. 23 Wolverines at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in a rivalry that the Spartans (7-1, 4-0 Big Ten) consider paramount.
The Wolverines (6-1, 2-1) won’t go out of their way to rank where the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry ranks among its top three. Each one, they like to say, is important. But a former Heisman Trophy winner from Michigan placed the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry third, behind Michigan-Ohio State and Michigan-Notre Dame.
"It's an in-state rivalry, and no disrespect to Michigan State, but they don't have that national appeal that Notre Dame has," Desmond Howard, who is an analyst for ESPN's College GameDay, said in September. "I don't think anybody's fooled by that. They have a fantastic program but nationally, they ain't Notre Dame. Nationally, they ain't Ohio State. You get it?"
Historically, Dantonio has never hid his feelings toward MSU’s rival. When asked about the Wolverines in his first season at Michigan State, Dantonio paraphrased a biblical statement.
“They need to check themselves sometimes,” Dantonio said after a loss to Michigan in 2007. “But just remember, pride comes before the fall."
A few days earlier, Dantonio rhetorically asked, "How long will we continue to bow to the University of Michigan? How's that? We're gonna find out."
In the spring of 2012, when commenting on the Spartans’ progress in comparison to the Wolverines after their first season under Hoke, Dantonio played up one number
"We're laying in the weeds,” Dantonio told ESPN. “We've beat Michigan the last four years. So where's the threat?"
Dantonio, Spartans linebacker Max Bullough said, embraces the rivalry.
“It just kind of lets the public know kind of what we feel in the locker room, and Coach D is not afraid to say that,” Bullough said. “I think that's just part of Coach D's personality.”
It’s not to say that Michigan hasn’t offered similar fodder.
While Hoke hasn’t gone to great lengths to stir the pot, he added some spice this week.
“We don’t necessarily like them, either,” Hoke said. “This isn’t an admiration society, you know? It’s a great rivalry.”
Much like the way Ohio State refers to Michigan as “that team up north,” MSU cornerback Darqueze Dennard simply refers to Michigan as “the guys down the road.”
“That’s a bad word,” Dennard said. “I’m going to stay away from that. I don’t want to give them acknowledgement. … It is what it is.”
While Bullough didn’t resort to verbal sparring, he did offer a certain guarantee as for the outcome of Saturday’s game.
“Yeah, we should win it,” Bullough said. “We should win every game we play. We should win this game. If we do what we've been doing this whole year, if we play the way we know we can play, then we should win the game.
“And think that they're probably saying the same thing, and I think every team says that every week. I think every team thinks they should win the game if they play the way they know they can play.”