ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) -- The Michigan State-Michigan rivalry is relegated to provincial appeal this season because both teams are unranked.
Within the state of Michigan and for both programs, however, much is at stake.
The players wearing green are out to prove they're not the same old Spartans. The once-mighty Wolverines insist want to show they still own the series.
"We are not going to lose to State," Michigan defensive end Brandon Graham told reporters Saturday following a 46-17 loss at Penn State.
Two days later, Graham's teammates didn't fault him for firing up Michigan State more.
"He wanted to guarantee a win. We're going to back him up on it," defensive tackle Terrance Taylor said Monday.
Oddsmakers aren't counting on that happening.
Michigan State (6-2, 3-1 Big Ten) is a 5 1/2-point favorite to beat Michigan (2-5, 1-2) for the first time since 2001, when T.J. Duckett caught a touchdown pass with disputed time on the clock, and for the first time in Ann Arbor since 1990, when Desmond Howard dropped a pass in the end zone after he appeared to be tripped.
The Spartans had a shot to end their losing skid in the rivalry last year, leading by 10 points midway through the fourth quarter only to lose 28-24 and hear senior running back Mike Hart rub it in.
"Sometimes, you get your little brother excited when you're playing basketball -- let them get the lead," Hart said at the postgame news conference. "And then you come back."
Hart, who had a season-ending knee injury this year with the Indianapolis Colts, said he might be at the Big House to watch the 101st Michigan-Michigan State game.
"It might be dangerous for me with all the Spartans there," Hart joked in a telephone interview Monday. "I referred to them as little brothers because I had heard them say in different clips, `We're not Michigan's little brother,' so I was just saying what they had been saying."
Trash talking has been as much a part of the rivalry as blocking and tackling over the years. Former Michigan linebacker Ian Gold once told a Lansing State Journal reporter there was only one college football program in the state and former Michigan State coach Darryl Rogers said Michigan was arrogant, among other things.
Wolverines defensive tackle Will Johnson said there's a reason Graham became the latest to grab headlines with his words.
"He just wants to motivate the team to get us ready to go," Johnson said. "I'm sure they're using it as bulletin board material, but it's just words.
"The only thing that matters is what happens on the field."
Coach Rich Rodriguez expects quarterback Steven Threet to be on the field after he was on and off it at Penn State, where he aggravated his bruised right elbow.
"He's a little better than he was a week ago," Rodriguez said. "Hopefully it won't be a chronic thing."