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Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, who lost to both teams this season, said Rodriguez and Dantonio have contrasting styles on both sides of the ball.

“It just shows the greatness of college football,” Kelly said. “You’ve got two teams that philosophically couldn’t be further from each other but they’re both top-20 teams.”

Dantonio is expected to watch the game from a coaching box high atop the renovated Big House, leading his team in person for the first time since he called for a fake field goal that beat the Fighting Irish in overtime on Sept. 18. He had surgery a few hours later and planned to return last week before a blood clot in his leg sent him back to the hospital.

Doctors cleared him to coach in Ann Arbor and it sounded like the patient was more than ready to resume his pressure-packed job.

“I’m not going to miss Michigan week,” Dantonio vowed. “It’s a very special rivalry for Michigan State University, one that so many Spartans hold dear.”

When Dantonio was hired after the 2006 season by Michigan State, where he was an assistant under Nick Saban, he had clocks installed at its football facility that counted down the time left before the Michigan game. He was publicly peeved after Hart’s verbal jab, wondering out loud how long the Spartans were going to “bow down” to their rival.

Jones credits Dantonio with instilling a new sense of confidence within the program.

“I think it had a tremendous effect,” Jones said.

Rodriguez, meanwhile, bristles at the notion that he doesn’t take the series as seriously or personally because he didn’t have any ties to the state until Michigan hired him after the 2007 season.

“I don’t count the days and count the hours” before the Michigan State game, he added, saying he chooses to do that for every game on the schedule.

Rodriguez insisted, though, that this game is bigger than most.

“I know they have talked about it quite a bit, but so do we,” Rodriguez said. “It’s no less important for us than it is for them.”