U of M: No. 2 ranking ‘puts a target on our back’

Left: Michigan State's Gerald Holmes rushes during the first quarter of a game vs BYU, Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016, in East Lansing, Mich. Right: Michigan linebacker Jabrill Peppers returns a kickoff in the first quarter of an a game against Illinois at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich., Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016.
Left: Michigan State's Gerald Holmes rushes during the first quarter of a game vs BYU, Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016, in East Lansing, Mich. Right: Michigan linebacker Jabrill Peppers returns a kickoff in the first quarter of an a game against Illinois at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich., Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016.


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Undefeated Michigan may be a 24.5-point favorite against Michigan State on Saturday, but there is little chance the Wolverines will underestimate their in-state rival.

The Spartans have seven of the last eight against the Wolverines, which includes the last three. All Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh has to do to motivate his players is ask his seniors if they want to leave school without ever beating Michigan State.

Rockford native Ben Braden was a redshirt freshman the last time Michigan beat the Spartans. He wants the win as much as anyone — but he’s motivated by more than just the rivalry. The Wolverines are ranked No. 2 nationally. If they can run the table in the Big Ten, they’ll be one of four teams in the College Football Playoffs.

“When I first got to college and hearing about it from Taylor Lewan and Mike Schofield and Elliott Mealer and what the rivalry meant to them, it just kind of like set the standard for what the rivalry is,” Braden said. “But at the same time, as a team we’ve got to focus on this week like any other week. It’s just another obstacle that we have to get across that’s going to take us to our end goal, that’s to win as many games as we can, be the best we can and play the best of our game.”

Meanwhile, Michigan State is trying to find a way to salvage a lost season after losing five straight thanks to a bunch of uncharacteristic fourth-quarter collapses.

“Anything can happen any week in the Big Ten,” Michigan offensive lineman Erik Magnuson said. “A lot of good teams. I don’t think anybody predicted Penn State would beat Ohio State and that’s probably how Michigan State’s feeling right now. We’re No. 2 — puts a big target on our back. Anybody that’s not ranked or doing as well as they think they should be doing is going to come after us with everything they have.”

The game kicks off at noon in East Lansing and airs on ESPN.