- Associated Press - Friday, October 14, 2011

EAST LANSING, MICH. (AP) - Michigan is undefeated and rolling along behind quarterback Denard Robinson. The Wolverines have a much better defense, too.

And here sits Michigan State, right in the way of a 7-0 start.

Michigan’s first loss in each of the past two years under Rich Rodriguez came against the rival Spartans, leading to six- and seven-loss seasons. Rodriguez is gone, fired and replaced by Brady Hoke back in January.

So Saturday’s in-state showdown has plenty at stake as usual. The 11th-ranked Wolverines (6-0, 2-0 Big Ten) are trying to snap a three-game skid in the series and perhaps push themselves into the BCS conversation.

“It has definitely been a turning point in our season,” Michigan tight end Kevin Koger said. “The past couple years, it really makes or breaks our season.”

The 23rd-ranked Spartans (4-1, 1-0) have a chance to match a school record with a fourth straight win in a rivalry that dates to 1892. It is a fact coach Mark Dantonio is using to motivate his seniors, knowing they would enjoy the feat for the rest of their lives.

“I’m encouraging it,” Dantonio said with a rare grin. “That’s for sure.”

Hoke insisted he doesn’t have to say much to fire up his team to avoid a losing streak Michigan hasn’t had in the matchup since 1959-62.

“I don’t think I’ll have to remind our guys what the outcome has been,” Hoke said. “I would hope that they are smart enough to understand we haven’t played Michigan football the way we need to.”

Both teams are ranked when they clash for just the third time since 2000 and the victor will leave Spartan Stadium alone atop the conference’s new Legends Division.

Dantonio had clocks installed when he was hired after the 2006 season that counted down the time left before playing the Wolverines. He lost his first game in the rivalry, but won his players over by lashing out at then-Michigan running back Mike Hart for comparing Michigan State to a “little brother” after the 2007 victory.

The usually reserved Dantonio took it personally, saying the Wolverines “need to check themselves” and warning them that “pride comes before the fall” after the game four years ago.

Since then, the Spartans have beaten college football’s winningest program three straight times for the first time since 1965-67. Dantonio has a chance to be just the second coach in program history to beat Michigan in four of his first five games since Charlie Bachman did in the 1930s.

“Whether it’s past players or past coaches or being in the game yourself, it makes it a little bit more personal,” Dantonio said.

Hoke made it clear that beating Ohio State is a top priority, pounding the lectern after his hire as he said the rivalry with the Buckeyes was like “none other in football.”

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