Some college football programs out there don’t seem to think that rivalry games are all that important. Michigan State thinks rivalry games are important. That might be why Michigan State has won a lot of rivalry games.
One of the best parts about college football is that it allows for plenty of fun for all of the whackos by not being a zero-sum sort of a thing.
Of course, the goal is to the win the national championship.
However, for generations, the sport has rewarded programs for milestone victories with all sorts of trophies that don’t have NATIONAL CHAMPION emblazoned on them.
Sure – the absolute cream of the crop programs don’t head into each season hoping to bring home the trophy from the Alamo Bowl.
However, if we polled 1,000 Alabama fans and the question was, “What’s more important – winning the Iron Bowl or winning the National Championship?” it’s entirely logical to think that the poll results might be split – or, maybe they’d even skew surprisingly one way and not the way someone who lives in Rhode Island might assume the poll would go.
And, since many people think that Nick Saban was born coaching Alabama, it’s largely forgotten that Alabama has gone through its own wilderness stages where 100% of the Bama fans would say winning the Iron Bowl is most important.
How have Michigan State fans measured “success” over the decades?
Yes, the chip on the shoulder is the size of Bubba Smith and that has always contributed to a unique fan base’s DNA that has a bit of “crazy” in it.
But that’s also what makes Michigan State fans as passionate, as edgy, and as committed as they are.
With all due respect to the fans of Minnesota, do they go through each and every day hating their rival with the white hot heat of Lucifer’s inferno?
Here’s something most people don’t realize about Michigan State –
The Spartans have FOUR rivalry games that feature trophies for the winner.
And that doesn’t even include the “rivalry” with Ohio State – there is no trophy for that game’s winner.
The four matchups on Michigan State’s schedule that include trophies also happen to include three of the winningest programs in the history of the sport – and, once again, those three trophy games don’t even include Ohio State.
The Megaphone Trophy is awarded to the winner of the Michigan State vs. Notre Dame game.
The Land Grant Trophy is awarded to the winner of the Michigan State vs Penn State game.
The Paul Bunyan Trophy is awarded to the winner of the Michigan State vs. Michigan game.
The Old Brass Spittoon is awarded to the winner of the Michigan State vs. Indiana game and while Indiana isn’t ever going to be confused with Alabama, the game still needs to be won.
How has Michigan State performed in these trophy games since Mark Dantonio arrived prior to the 2007 season?
It’s a quantifiable way of measuring success.
Before we get to detailing the Spartans’ performance in these trophy games, let’s remind ourselves that trophies are awarded to the winners of bowl games, of course.
Games like the Rose Bowl, the Cotton Bowl, and, yes, the Buffalo Wild Wings and Holiday Bowls.
There are plenty of folks out there who, particularly with the advent of the College Football Playoff, want to poo-poo the idea of bringing home a trophy following a bowl victory.
I was recently on the campus of the University of Oklahoma, recognized by many as, perhaps, the “best” football program over the long haul in the history of college football.
Take a look at what the Sooners have emblazoned on the facade of their on-campus home stadium:
The glass inside of the stadium showcases “28 BOWL CHAMPIONSHIPS.”
It’s worth noting that it doesn’t delineate the bowls and place them in some sort of order of importance – it just simply states 28 BOWL CHAMPIONSHIPS.
So, it seems as if the Oklahoma people still view bowl games as being meaningful.
Let’s differentiate the trophies that Michigan State has won under Mark Dantonio between Rivalry Games and Bowl Games.
We’ll start with Michigan State’s longtime non-conference rival, Notre Dame.
The Megaphone Trophy
It’s not a winning record and plenty of folks want to say that Notre Dame hasn’t been the Notre Dame of yore – however, Notre Dame has been a Top 15 program for the entirety of Dantonio’s time at Michigan State and the Spartans are 4-5 against the Irish in what is one of the most underrated rivalries in all of college football.
The Land Grant Trophy
Without any hesitation whatsoever, the Land Grant Trophy is the most hideous and laughable “award” that has ever been crafted.
George Perles designed it – and that’s apparent.
However, nobody ever said that the value of the trophy is in the grandeur of its presentational ethos.
You’re supposed to win the thing, not make love with it.
And Michigan State has a 5-3 record in the Land Grant Trophy game against Penn State.
The Old Brass Spittoon
No Spartan will ever argue that the “rivalry” with Indiana is on par with the Alabama vs Auburn war.
But, when there is a trophy attached to a game, you’re supposed to win it.
And if you find ways to gack in a trophy game, people don’t just give you a pass if the trophy isn’t understood to be on equal footing as the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Michigan State has found a way to gack away the Old Brass Spittoon in the Dantonio Era.
State is 8-1 against Indiana since Dantonio arrived.
The Paul Bunyan Trophy
Within the Michigan State community, this is the single most important thing that the football team aspires to claim ownership of on an annual basis.
When Mark Dantonio became the head coach of the Spartans, he made it very clear that everything starts with winning this game, raising this trophy, and making sure it has a secure place to rest in East Lansing at all times.
UMAA, on the other hand, has made it very clear with their rhetorical patronization, practiced laissez faire attitude, and consistent dismissiveness of Michigan State and the game played between the two schools that they do not think this game and its trophy carry much meaning.
That’s their chosen approach.
If they want to stick with that approach, they should feel free to continue to be chill about the whole thing.
Michigan State is 8-3 against UMAA since Dantonio took over.
The Spartans are 8-2 in the last ten Paul Bunyan Trophy games.
Let’s move on.
It’s true – Dantonio’s program had a rough go of it in bowl games for the first four years of the era.
But after those losses in the Champs Sports Bowl, the Capital One Bowl, the Alamo Bowl and the Capital One Bowl again, the Spartans have gone 4-1 in bowl games with the loss coming against Alabama in the College Football Playoff’s Cotton Bowl.
The victories that delivered trophies to East Lansing?
The Outback Bowl, post 2011 Season
The triple-overtime 33-30 win over Georgia delivered the Spartans with their first bowl win under Dantonio.
The win earned Michigan State a #10 final ranking and kickstarted the program into high gear.
The Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, post 2012 Season
Dan Conroy’s 47-yard field goal with 1:01 left to play earned the Spartans a 17-16 win over Gary Patterson’s TCU Horned Frogs.
The Rose Bowl, post 2013 Season
The only description for this is to let those who have not been to the Rose Bowl in 14 or 15 years to know that the Rose Bowl is played in Pasadena, California.
The Cotton Bowl, post 2014 Season
One of the more epic comeback victories in Cotton Bowl – and Michigan State – history led to the Spartans carrying home the trophy in the aftermath of a 42-41 win over Baylor.
The win earned the Spartans a #5 final national ranking.
The Holiday Bowl, post 2017 Season
Mark Dantonio’s 100th victory as head coach of the Spartans came in San Diego’s Holiday Bowl as the Spartans beat Washington State 42-17 and finished the season with a #15 national ranking.
Let’s not forget the trophies that Michigan State has on display in the Skandelaris Center that represent the three Big Ten Championships during the Dantonio Era.
So, over the last eleven seasons, Michigan State has brought home 32 trophies from the games that have had trophies attached to them for an overall record of 32-16 in trophy games (including the two Big Ten Championship that were won in Big Ten title games).
The other trophy stems from winning the Big Ten Championship before there was a “trophy game” to determine the champion.
Anyway you want to slice it, Michigan State has earned a lot of hardware in the last decade.
The first order of business when trying to win trophies?
Recognizing that they matter instead of pretending to think that your football program is above it all and would rather play it cool than actually win the trophies.