Perhaps no one gets a rivalry - at least this rivalry - like Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio. And his hate for Michigan will be unleashed this week by an aggressive, suffocating defense that oh so happens to be the best in the country statistically.
MSU ranks first in the country in yards allowed, yielding just 215.5 per game. The Spartans are third in the NCAA in points allowed, surrendering just 12.2 while their rush defense is also tops, giving opponents only 54.9 yards per game while no foe has rushed for 100 yards or more against the Green and White this year.
"Our confidence level has risen up even more so than last year," Dantonio said. "Last year we had an outstanding defense -- very tough to score on, had numerous rankings in rush defense, all these different things. I think we've become even stingier this year. But that remains to be seen because you have to play this out over the course of the year.
"Thus far we've gotten more turnovers, we've scored, been very good on third down. We're getting sacks. We're pressuring the quarterback."
Michigan State has made life miserable for opposing offenses, holding seven of eight teams to fewer than 300 yards of total offense. Against the run, MSU has turned it up 10 notches, limiting its eight foes to 0.41 yards per rush, 2.5, 2.6, 2.6, 1.4, 3.4, 1.9 and 1.2.
Meanwhile, the Spartans' offense remains inconsistent, though it took a positive step forward against Illinois, scoring 42 points and generating 477 yards of offense this past weekend.
Of course, pundits were saying the same thing after State had 412 and 473 yards in back-to-back wins over Iowa and Indiana, only to see MSU score 14 points (seven offensively) and rack up 294 yards against Purdue Oct. 19.
Still, opponents have to score to beat Michigan State and no one is doing that with any consistency, as MSU's four Big Ten foes have averaged 11.3 points, and that includes Indiana's 28-point outburst.
Combine that stout defensive play with the aggressive attitude the Green and White will amp up even more this weekend, and they are a considerable obstacle for the Wolverines and, at the moment, the favorite for the Legends Division.