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Undefeated Spartans and Wolverines face off in big Saturday matchup in East Lansing

Spartan Stadium on a cloudy day
Myesha Johnson
/
WKAR-MSU
ESPN's College GameDay and Fox's Big Noon Kickoff are both broadcasting live from East Lansing for the game.

The Michigan State University football team is ranked 2nd in the Big Ten Conference with an undefeated record so far.

The team faces off against its state rival, the University of Michigan on Saturday.

Al Martin hosts Current Sports, and he joined WKAR's Sophia Saliby to break down the Spartans' odds to win the game and to keep the Paul Bunyan trophy in East Lansing.

Interview Highlights

On the historic implications of this rivalry weekend game

What we can say is Michigan, arguably the best team that they've they've played so far this season? Well, look, you've got two top 10 teams going at it on Saturday, and this is the first time that both the Wolverines and the Spartans have been ranked in the top 10 meeting each other in the football year, the first time that's happened, Sophia, since 1964. So, the historical implications of this game are massive. So, perception is everything. Rankings are everything in the college football world. So, to answer your question from that standpoint, I would say yes.

On Mel Tucker hitting his stride in his second year as head coach

Mel Tucker realized how big the transfer portal was going to be once it was implemented in the college football game. The mobility now that college athletes have if they don't like their situation at a college, they can say, "Hey, I want to go somewhere else." And you go into that portal and you can just pick from the riches that are there, and Mel Tucker did that.

On a Spartans win will mean for the rest of the season

It will tell us that they will be right in the thick of things when it comes to competing for a Big Ten Championship. They are putting themselves in position to compete for a Big Ten East Championship, the trip to Indy, that's what everybody in the East competes for.

Interview Transcript

Sophia Saliby: This is All Things Considered on WKAR. I’m Sophia Saliby.

The Michigan State Spartans are ranked 2nd in the Big Ten Conference with an undefeated record so far.

Tomorrow, the football team faces off against its state rivals, the University of Michigan Wolverines.

Al Martin hosts WKAR’s Current Sports, and he joins me now to break down the Spartans' odds to win the game and keep the Paul Bunyan trophy in East Lansing. Thank you for joining me.

Al Martin: Oh, thank you for having me, Sophia. It is rivalry week. Everybody's amped around here, right?

Saliby: For sure. And is this the Spartans' first real challenge of the season?

Martin: Well, you know, it depends on how you look at it because I look at a few matchups that they had throughout the year and I say to myself, "Okay, they were kind of pushed to the brink and did face some adversity in those games."

I think, for me, it was the Miami game because they were traveling down there. That took place in the middle of September. They were traveling down to Miami for the first time since the '80s. Miami came into that game with a lot of hype. D'Eriq King, the quarterback for the Hurricanes, was a Heisman Trophy candidate at the time. And Michigan State just went down there, handled business and blew them out by double digits, which was so surprising. And then, you know, they played Nebraska, beat Nebraska by three points. That game was a thriller that went to overtime.

This is the first time that both the Wolverines and the Spartans have been ranked in the top 10 meeting each other in the football year, the first time that's happened, Sophia, since 1964.

So as far as Michigan being the first real test, I think that's debatable. But what we can say is, is Michigan, arguably the best team that they've they've played so far this season? Well, look, you've got two top 10 teams going at it on Saturday, and this is the first time that both the Wolverines and the Spartans have been ranked in the top 10 meeting each other in the football year, the first time that's happened, Sophia, since 1964.

So, the historical implications of this game are massive. So, perception is everything. Rankings are everything in the college football world. So, to answer your question from that standpoint, I would say yes.

Saliby: This is Mel Tucker's second year as head coach of the team. Last year, the Spartans finished with a 2-5 record. Does it seem like Tucker is hitting his stride this year guiding the team?

Martin: Oh, my goodness, he's already exceeded expectations. You know, what I've noted on Current Sports this week, Sophia, is that Mel Tucker could go out and lose, we don't want him to do that, though, but he can go out and lose every single game for the rest of this season. And this season is already a success.

Vegas set the over-under for win total for Michigan State football at four and a half. They're already three games above that now. They've reached a seven win mark. They're already bowl-eligible. And it's just amazing how Mel has done this so fast.

Mel Tucker realized how big the transfer portal was going to be once it was implemented in the college football game.

And I think the biggest reason for me, Sophia, is because of the transfer portal. Mel Tucker realized how big the transfer portal was going to be once it was implemented in the college football game. The mobility now that college athletes have if they don't like their situation at a college, they can say, "Hey, I want to go somewhere else." And you go into that portal, and you can just pick from the riches that are there, and Mel Tucker did that.

If you look at just about every big time impact player on this team so far this season, Sophia, many of them, at least I would say 80% to 90% of them, came from the transfer portal.

So, Mel Tucker is certainly hitting his stride. They haven't lost a game at 7-0. They have blown the doors off when it comes to preseason expectations.

Saliby: He spoke earlier this week about the importance of this rivalry weekend game. I think you have a clip to share.

Martin: As we all know, Sophia, I mean, this is a rivalry that that both teams, you know, sometimes you get coach speak like, "Oh, we respect that team. We respect the coach." And you know, it's real coach speak. Not when it comes to Michigan and Michigan State.

These two programs don't like each other. They let that be known and that fuels them. The in-state rivalry is real. And yes, here's Mel Tucker talking about the importance of this game:

We all know this is a big week and what this is all about, playing the school down the road for the Paul Bunyan trophy, big game for our players, for our university for our fans [and] our alumni.
Mel Tucker

Mel Tucker: We all know this is a big week and what this is all about, playing the school down the road for the Paul Bunyan trophy, big game for our players, for our university, for our fans, our alumni. We understand this is not just another game. We get that. We need to eliminate distractions and focus on what truly matters and is going to affect the outcome of the game.

Martin: Well, as you see, again, they hold no punches. I mean, Jim Harbaugh is saying the same thing out in Ann Arbor that this game is the big one. And of course, Jim Harbaugh, a man that many believe is coaching for his job. He lost to Mel Tucker in his first year last year.

You mentioned that 2-5 record, Sophia, Michigan State only had two wins and one of those wins came against in-state rival Michigan which felt like 20 wins, to be honest with you.

Saliby: In these last 30 seconds here, what will the results of this game tell us about how the Spartans will fare for the rest of the season?

Martin: It will tell us that they will be right in the thick of things when it comes to competing for a Big Ten Championship. They are putting themselves in position to compete for a Big Ten East Championship, the trip to Indy, that's what everybody in the East competes for.

They are putting themselves in position to compete for a Big Ten East Championship [and] the trip to Indy, that's what everybody in the East competes for.

Ohio State and Penn State are still on that schedule later on, but if they beat Michigan, boy oh boy, hold tight. It's gonna be a great year. A great finish to the year.

Saliby: Michigan State plays Michigan at noon tomorrow at Spartan Stadium. Al Martin hosts WKAR's Current Sports. Thank you for joining me.

Martin: Anytime Sophia. Thank you for having me.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

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