EAST LANSING, Mich. – Now in his fifth season at Michigan State, tight end Charlie Gantt can speak with authority on his team's rivalry with Notre Dame.
"I would put it right up there with Michigan," said Gantt, a senior from the Detroit area. "All you do is just think about it all week, all day. Maybe they don't think that. But for us it's a real emotional game, and every year it's a fight."
It certainly has been recently.
Michigan State has won nine of its last 13 meetings with the Irish, though Notre Dame has handed the Spartans a pair of gut-wrenching losses in the last five years. In 2006, Michigan State squandered a 16-point fourth-quarter lead and last season, the Irish intercepted Kirk Cousins late in a 33-30 victory.
Nine of the last 11 games in the series have been decided by 10 points or less, with the next edition coming up Saturday night.
"When I was here in '07, just the reminders of the '06 game and the things our players talked about, you could tell it was very emotional," said Mark Dantonio, in his fourth season as Michigan State's coach. "So I think emotion brings a lot of that out in a football team. But they just have been — they've been close all the way back as far as when I was here."
Dantonio went 5-0 against the Irish from 1997-2001 as a Michigan State assistant and was 2-0 in the series as a head coach until last year's game. He now faces new coach Brian Kelly, playing his first road game with Notre Dame (1-1) as part of a season-opening stretch that includes three Big Ten opponents. After a victory over Purdue, the Irish lost in the last minute to Michigan a week ago.
This will be Notre Dame's first attempt to run Kelly's fast-paced, spread offense away from South Bend, and quarterback Dayne Crist is hoping to come back strong after missing time last weekend following a hit from a helmet.
Crist acknowledged this week his eyesight was impaired, but he was cleared to play when doctors determined it was not a concussion and his vision had cleared. He led the Irish to 17 second-half points in their 28-24 loss.
"Doctors took special care that I was safe to play, everything was OK," Crist said. "I passed multiple tests and then follow-ups after that. So, again, I'm not worried about it. I'm just worried about Michigan State right now and just moving on and wanting to get back out on the field and get a W."
Crist has plenty of talent around him on offense, including receiver Michael Floyd and running back Armando Allen, but the Irish are now under a decent amount of pressure to avoid a losing streak so early in Kelly's tenure.
"There will be plenty of room on the bandwagon, too, when we start winning," Kelly said. "Look, this is a process for me and our coaches and our players that, you know, we're going to work at every single day. Those are expectations in this business that you're going to have each and every day."
For Michigan State (2-0), the game is a chance to earn some validation after victories over Western Michigan and Florida Atlantic, especially with games against Wisconsin and Michigan coming up in early October.
Cousins has an additional year of experience since last season's loss to the Irish, and tailback Edwin Baker has run for 300 yards so far this season. Running back Larry Caper is expected to make his first appearance of the season after recovering from a hand injury.
"We've held him out based on the situations," Dantonio said. "When guys are averaging nine yards a carry and he's nursing an injury, we're not going to play him, and there were some other guys we did the same thing with. So I think he'll be into the third game here, and I think he'll be fully functional."