Michigan and Michigan State look to avoid tough setback

Updated: October 30, 2003, 7:35 PM ET

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Michigan State's football program is a success after it was in shambles.

Michigan has won three straight games since ruining its national title hopes.

One team will experience a huge win Saturday and the other a devastating loss when the ninth-ranked Spartans play the 11th-ranked Wolverines.

If Michigan State (7-1, 4-0 Big Ten) beats the Wolverines for the third straight time at home, it will have a chance to play in the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 1987 season. A loss could send the Spartans spiraling toward a mediocre bowl.

Michigan's Carl Diggs, a fifth-year senior, said it would hurt to leave school without knowing how it feels to win in Spartan Stadium.

"That is something that I would think about every day of my life," Diggs said.

If Michigan (7-2, 4-1) wins, it will move into first place alone in the Big Ten and will be the favorite to make it to Pasadena, Calif., for the first time since winning the 1997 national championship. A setback would a crushing blow for a team that thought it would end the season at the BCS championship game in the Sugar Bowl.

"A lot of people look at us as Michigan's little brother, but we have a chance to prove that's not the case," Michigan State's Paul Harker said. "People thought they would be playing for the national championship this year and that we would be awful. But going into this game, both teams are in the exact same position.

"We're both shooting for the Rose Bowl and that makes our great rivalry even better."

Michigan State's long-struggling program sank to a longtime low a year ago, when Michigan routed the Spartans 49-3 -- handing them their worst lost since 1947.

When Michigan State coach Bobby Williams was asked after the game if he had lost his team, he said: "I don't know."

Jeff Smoker already had been suspended for a substance-abuse problem and others had either been suspended for violating team rules, or quit.

Not long after the Spartans got home from their humiliating loss in Ann Arbor, Dawan Moss -- like Smoker, a captain -- was arrested for alcohol-related charges.

About 36 hours later, Williams was fired with three games left in a season that was embarrassing and disappointing on and off the field.

John L. Smith was hired away from Louisville in December. After an offseason that included conditioning in the snow, a surprising season has followed for a team expected to be one of the Big Ten's worst.

"This team decided it was going to be different from it was in the past," Smith said. "We told them what their image was. And we told them when they looked in the mirror, they should have been disgusted."

Smoker, reinstated to the team in August, has helped Michigan State win five straight games by not throwing an interception over the past 18 quarters.

"With the new coaching staff, we expect to win games instead of hoping to win or just to be in games," Smoker said.

The Spartans lead the nation with 34 sacks and are tied with Nebraska with a plus-15 turnover margin.

Michigan is the Big Ten's top-rated passing team and ranks second in the country against the pass.

The Wolverines rose to third in The Associated Press poll after starting 3-0, but they plummeted to 20th with a 4-2 record after losing at Iowa on Oct. 4.

Michigan responded by scoring 31 fourth-quarter points at Minnesota -- in the largest comeback in team history -- and with routs against Illinois and Purdue at home.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index