ALDLAND takes you live to the battle for the Mitten

A glutton for entertaining punishment (my teams are 0-fer when I’ve seen them live this fall), I’ll be back on the road this weekend, this time joining Brendan in Ann Arbor for the Michigan/Michigan State game. No current Michigan player has beat Michigan State– the Spartans have beaten the Wolverines four straight times– and MSU has made life difficult for Michigan QB Denard Robinson in particular.

I was in the Big House at the beginning of this current streak, when MSU won for the first time in Ann Arbor in eighteen years. I am worried that I will be there when the streak ends, too, and it has a good chance of ending tomorrow. Before the season started, I was sure that Michigan would win this game. After the first couple weeks of the season, MSU definitely looked like the better team, though, but after what we’ve seen recently from each squad, I’ve reverted to my preseason position: this is Michigan’s game to lose.

Michigan State has not looked good at all in recent weeks. For them to win tomorrow afternoon, they’ll have to have a complete game on both sides of the ball, something they have yet to accomplish this season. The X factor this week is coach Mark Dantonio. The MSU staff hasn’t been the same since the departure of offensive coordinator Don Treadwell, but Dantonio always seems to save something for big games. I don’t think he’s in danger of losing his job right now, but with now-dashed Rose Bowl hopes running high headed into this season, his seat may be feeling a bit warm. He has to know, though, that all will be forgiven in East Lansing if his team beats Michigan tomorrow.

Whatever happens, we all can agree that the Paul Bunyan trophy is ugly.

Predicting Boise State vs. Michigan State

In less than three hours, Boise State will take on Michigan State in a Top-25 battle in East Lansing. Playing a ranked opponent in the first game is a risky proposition, especially when it’s Boise State. Just ask Georgia. Still, the Michigan State team that won a share of the Big Ten championship last season (and should have gone to the Rose Bowl as a result) is without quarterback Kirk Cousins and offensive coordinator Don Treadwell, and their strengths– defense and the running game– are somewhat diminished. This isn’t the same Boise Broncos team either, though, especially in the absence of quarterback Kellen Moore, which is why I think MSU will handle their visiting opponents tonight. (Field color may also be a factor.)

As my favorite ESPN.com feature illustrates, the rest of the nation, and indeed the world, agrees with me. By now your eyes have been drawn to a few exceptions, of which there are two kinds. The first is less interesting for sports purposes. These are usually low-population states, and their apparent bucking of the trend usually is the result of a near-even split of a very small number of participants. Here, those states are Alaska (23), Vermont (20), and Rhode Island (45). Social scientists probably have something to say about this interactive map as a tool to measure things like local awareness of broader issues and the availability of internet access.

The second sort is more interesting for sports purposes. These are the states where participants reject rational objectivity and choose the team they want to win the game, rather than the team they think will win the game. Their team could be a 7.5-point dog on the road and they’d still pick them. The overall vote could be two-to-one against them, and they’ll swing even harder in the opposite direction. (Yes, there are some remote reasons why people in Idaho, Montana, and Utah might rationally believe Boise State will win tonight, but please be quiet Mister Social Scientist.)

The truth, of course, is that all voters are of the second type. Or, at least, we all approach the extreme of the second type in positive correlation with the strength of our emotional connection to at least one of the teams involved, and I’m really ok with that. In fact, I love it.