EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) – The Michigan State-Michigan rivalry hasn’t looked like this in decades.

The 11th-ranked Spartans are in The Associated Press poll and the Wolverines are not. Michigan State is the favorite in the annual matchup today for the first time since 1968.

“I don’t ever in my life remember going into any game feeling like I was an underdog,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. “I certainly have never experienced that at Michigan.”

Nobody has at Michigan against the Spartans since the year before Bo Schembechler arrived on campus.

Since Duffy Daugherty built Michigan State into a national power in the mid-1960s, it has struggled to sustain success and coaching continuity while the Wolverines have enjoyed a lot of both.

They lead the series against the Spartans 64-28-5, including three straight wins and seven of the past 10.

The winner of today’s game takes home the Paul Bunyan Trophy. Michigan State coach John L. Smith had a large photo of it leaning against a wall in his office.

“That’s the closest we’ve been to that thing,” said Smith, who is 0-2 against the Wolverines. “This is not a real rivalry yet because we haven’t held up our end of the bargain.

“This is THE game for us. I’m not sure that’s the same for them. Maybe if we hold up our end of the bargain on a consistent basis, it could become THE game for them.”

While Michigan has strong rivalries with Ohio State and Notre Dame, defensive tackle Pat Massey said the Michigan State game is the most physical of the year.

“A lot of people compare it to a street fight,” Massey said.

The Spartans (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) are fighting to stay atop the conference.

After starting the season ranked fourth, Michigan (2-2, 0-1) is trying to avoid its worst start since losing five of its first six games in 1967.

The Wolverines’ loss at Wisconsin last weekend caused them to fall out of the Top 25 for the first time since 1998, snapping the nation’s longest streak of 114-straight poll appearances.

Massey acknowledged the two-time defending Big Ten champion Wolverines are at a crossroads, and fullback Brian Thompson said it’s time to find out what they’re all about.

“The fact that we’re 2-2, there’s a sense of urgency,” Thompson said.

Michigan seems to be a little uptight, as Carr tends to appear. The Spartans looked relaxed, taking a cue from their cowboy gear-wearing, cheek-slapping coach.

“Maybe it’s a good thing that we’ve never been there,” Michigan State center Chris Morris said. “We don’t know about the pressure. We’ve never had to deal with it. So all we have to do is play football.”

The team that has the most yards rushing has won 34 of the past 37 matchups, but the focus will be on both quarterbacks.

Stanton is playing so well some are mentioning him as a Heisman Trophy candidate. Michigan’s Chad Henne seems to be in a sophomore slump after tying a school record with 25 touchdown passes last year.

Stanton, who directs a wide-open offense, is a threat to run or pass. He’s just the kind of quarterback that has given the Wolverines problems.

“Without a doubt, that gives us some confidence against them,” Smith said. “As we spread it, we make it fast-break basketball on grass. If I had my choice, I would hope it would turn into a shootout because that might possibly get them out of what they like to do.”

Since last spring, cornerback Grant Mason said the Wolverines have worked on slowing down mobile quarterbacks like Stanton, and non-conventional offenses like Michigan State’s.

“We’ll have our hands full with him, but he’s going to have his hands full with some of the things we’re going to do to him,” Mason said. “It will be fun.”

AP-ES-09-30-05 1521EDT

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