Rival: (noun) a person who is competing for the same object or goal as another, or who tries to equal or outdo another; competitor
Some writers and fans have been debating whether or not Michigan's basketball program has surpassed MSU's program. That debate got me thinking about the rivalry between the two schools in both football and basketball. Is there a better two-sport rivalry right now than MSU-Michigan in America? I say no, and I'll try to back it up.
For a rivalry to be great on a national scale, in my opinion, both schools need to have good teams over a sustained period of time. The reason everyone talks about the UM-Ohio state football rivalry is because both teams have been good for decades. With that being said, I tracked the relative standing of both schools' football and basketball teams as some empirical proof of the rivalry's greatness.
The simplest way for me to track the rivalry is to use a national ranking like the AP or BCS systems. (I could have used KenPom or other sites often quoted on this page, but I'm not as familiar with them) We'll track the two sports backward in time and see how the rivalry has developed in recent years.
2013: #21 UM @ #22 MSU
2012: MSU @ #23AP UM
2011: #11 UM @ #23 MSU
2010: #17 MSU @ #18 UM
2009: #22 UM @ MSU
2008: MSU @ UM
2007: UM @ MSU (the Little Brother Game)
So in the past five years, one or both of the teams came into the contest ranked in the top 25.
2014: #21 UM @ #3 MSU, #13 MSU @ #20 UM
2013: #4 UM @ #8 MSU, #9 MSU @ #4 UM
2012: #9 MSU @ #20 UM, #23 UM @ #9 MSU
2011: UM @ #25 MSU, MSU @ UM
2010: #5 MSU @ UM, UM @ #11 MSU
2009: #9 MSU @ UM,
2008: UM @ #10 MSU (apparently we only played them once in 08, 09)
The argument gets even better here. The last six contests feature two top 25 teams, and only one game since the 2007-2008 season has happened where neither team is ranked.
Another component of a rivalry is usually close contests and controversial plays. In football, the spreads since 2007 read like this: 4, 14, 6 (OT), 17, 14, 2, and 23 points. So not all of the games have been close (although Spartan fans will note that both of the UM losses were close, while the blowouts are MSU wins). In basketball, the spreads since 2007 read like this: 15, 12, 1, 16, 4, 7, 1, 10, 17, 1, 5, and 9 points. Again, some close finishes, but not consistently nail-biters.
Lastly, rivalries have crystallizing moments of hatred. MSU fans won't soon forget the "little brother" press conference, or Dantonio's "Pride cometh before the fall." UM fans point to Gholston's facemask on Dennard Robinson as a watershed moment.
So I'll finish this way; MSU-UM has been the best two-sport NCAA rivalry in the past five years. If you can think of a better one, let me know.
Note: I used the ESPN team page to track all of these rankings. They keep the AP/BCS rankings for when the teams played each other, but it's possible there are some errors.