5 Best Games in the Michigan-Michigan State Football Rivalry

There are plenty of rivalries in college football, but there are certain ones that just mean more. One of those great in-state rivalries that garners national attention every year is the one between Michigan and Michigan State. Though Michigan considered Ohio State their biggest rival, there’s no doubt that MSU considers Michigan to be their number one target. Over the years, the two have had some memorable matchups, with these five being the best games in the programs’ rivalry.

5. Clockgate (2001)

One of the most controversial games in the history between Michigan and Michigan State happened in 2001 when the heavily-favored Wolverines traveled to East Lansing to take on the 3-2 Spartans. The game ended up being closer than people thought, with the score being tied at 17 entering the final quarter.

MSU quarterback Jeff Smoker spiked the ball with one second on the clock to give the Spartans one more chance, despite Michigan players and fans believing that the time had run out. On the final play of the game, Smoker connected with T.J. Duckett to win the game 26-24 in a game that’s still talked about to this day.

4. KW3’s Comeback (2021)

Nobody expected much out of Michigan State in the 2021 season after they finished a paltry 2-5 during the COVID-19-affected 2020 campaign. The Spartans stormed out of the gates, however, and started the season 7-0, including wins over Miami and Nebraska. Meanwhile, Michigan had high hopes and a #6 ranking after starting their season 7-0 as well.

The 2021 matchup started off strong for the Wolverines, who jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter, and went into the locker room with a 23-14 advantage. After the third, the score was 30-22 in favor of the Wolverines, but Kenneth Walker III and Michigan State roared back in a big way, scoring the go-ahead touchdown with 5:08 left, winning 37-33.

3. Number One Goes Down (1990)

During the 1990 season, the Wolverines and Spartans were the top two teams in the Big Ten Conference, and they both came to play on October 13 of that year. Michigan State had lost close games to Notre Dame and Iowa heading into the matchup while also tying with Syracuse in the season opener.

Meanwhile, the Wolverines had just one loss, which was also against the top-ranked Fighting Irish. After three quarters in their 1990 matchup, Michigan and Michigan State were tied at 14-14, but both teams scored two touchdowns each in the fourth quarter. Michigan scored with just six seconds left on the clock, and instead of attempting the extra point to force a tie game, they went for the two-point conversion. They failed, however, in a controversial fashion, giving the Spartans a 28-27 win.

2. Triple OT Thriller (2004)

Very rarely does the Michigan-Michigan State annual game go into overtime, but there were back-to-back years in which it happened. The first of which was the only multi-overtime game of the series, with the Wolverines and Spartans needing three overtimes to decide a winner in 2004. Michigan entered the game at #12 in the rankings while Michigan State was struggling at 4-3.

Michigan State took a commanding 17-point lead with 8:43 remaining in the game, but the Wolverines stormed back, scoring 17 unanswered points in less than six minutes. This forced three overtimes, with the Wolverines scoring a touchdown and getting the two-point conversion, keeping the Spartans out of the end zone for a 45-37 win.

1. Trouble With the Snap (2015)

The worst word that a Michigan football fan can hear is “Whoa,” because they immediately think of the following words “he has trouble with the snap.” This is, of course, in reference to the 2015 Michigan-Michigan State showdown at the Big House in front of a sold-out crowd. The Wolverines came into the game with a 5-0 record and were #12 in the polls while Michigan State was also 5-0 and ranked in the top five of the coaches poll.

Michigan entered the fourth quarter with a 20-14 lead and were hanging on to a 23-21 lead with just a couple of seconds left on the clock. All Michigan had to do was cleanly punt the ball away and the time would run out on the Spartans’ perfect season. Instead, punter Blake O’Neill couldn’t hand on to the snap and Jalen Watts-Jackson of Michigan State picked it up and took it into the end zone “on the last play of the game! Unbelievable!” 

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