Ranking Michigan’s Football Rivalries
As one of the biggest football programs in the nation, you’re definitely going to have a long list of rivals. Michigan is no exception, with rivals both inside and outside of the Big Ten Conference. While many claim Michigan as their rival, Michigan only recognizes some of those schools on their end. Out of those rivals, how do they rank up in terms of importance for the Wolverines and their fans? Here is our ranking of the Michigan football rivalries.
There are only two opponents in Michigan’s history whom they’ve played more than Illinois, so while the rivalry might not be the most heated in modern times, it is one of the most played in school history. Over time, Michigan has dominated the series, especially since the start of the 1960s. After guys like Dick Butkus and Red Grange, Michigan held the upper hand more often than not.
Michigan doesn’t have a rivalry trophy up for grabs when they’re plating Illinois, but if there were one, it would spend a lot of time in Ann Arbor. Michigan has won games by as much as 57 points, doing so in 1969. Between 2000 and 2022, Illinois won just twice during Michigan’s down years, but outside of those two blowouts, it’s been all Michigan.
The first of the rivalries on the list that has a trophy up for grabs, Michigan and Minnesota play each other for the Little Brown Jug, though it’s not a yearly rivalry in the current state of the Big Ten Conference. They began to play in 1892 and the Wolverines and Golden Gophers have met over 100 times in their history.
The Wolverines hold a huge edge in this rivalry, winning around three-quarters of the games played and having an average winning margin of more than 12 points. Between 1986 and 2020, Minnesota won the Little Brown Jug just twice (2005 and 2014). The last time Minnesota won consecutive games was in the 1960s.
3. Michigan State
Every year, the Paul Bunyan Trophy is up for grabs when bitter in-state rivals meet in October. Unlike the first two rivalries on the list, this one has not been entirely one-sided, though Michigan does hold a significant advantage. Between the “little brother” talk, the brawling in the tunnels, and the general disdain that Michigan and Michigan State have for each other, this rivalry is the second-most heated.
However, it’s the third-greatest rivalry for Michigan. Much of the reason why it’s not number two is that it feels more important for Michigan State than it does Michigan. MSU isn’t considered one of the “blue bloods” of college football, and it wasn’t until 2008 and beyond that it became hyper-competitive.
2. Notre Dame
In a rivalry game that should happen every year, Michigan and Notre Dame haven’t played each other on a regular basis in a long time, but it’s always an event that captures attention nationwide when it does happen. Michigan and Notre Dame just flat-out don’t like each other, and that hatred stems from the turn of the 20th century.
The two teams last met in 2019 and won’t meet again until 2033. Michigan holds the advantage 25-17-1 in the series, but it’s much more even than it seems. Notre Dame had learned how to play football from Michigan, and the Wolverines won the first eight contests between 1887 and 1908. Notre Dame also has a vacated win, giving the Irish a slight edge since World War II.
1. Ohio State
Of course, Ohio State has to be placed as the number one rival for Michigan. After all, the annual meeting is simply called “The Game.” Michigan has played Ohio State more than any other team, surpassing Minnesota after the Wolverines joined the same Big Ten division as the Buckeyes.
Ohio State holds a very slight edge in the series overall, with Michigan once having the edge before the 21st century. Michigan has fought back, though, and the rivalry seems to be headed toward continuous balance for a very long time. Michigan owns the biggest blowout win, though, defeating Ohio State 58-6 in 1946.