Thursday’s Cotton Bowl matchup between Alabama and Michigan State is one of the most anticipated of the college football bowl season. Both teams have shown perseverance throughout the year and match up extremely well against each other. The ironic part is that there is relatively little bad blood between these two. How can there be when they have only played once?
Hate does not always make for a great game, but it helps. And if one looks closely, Alabama and Michigan State can find points of irritation that transcend the typical SEC/Big Ten animosity and date back 50 years. Here are five good reasons these fan bases can hold a grudge.
For the first time ever, the AP poll crowned the national champion after bowl games (it did not permanently do so until 1968). The UPI Coaches poll did so before the postseason (and would continue to do so until 1974) and named Michigan State the national champ. The Spartans were then upset by UCLA in the Rose Bowl, while Alabama beat Nebraska in the Orange Bowl and finished No. 1 in the AP poll with Michigan State at No. 2. This is the only national title the schools share.
4. Alabama 49, Michigan State 7
These two teams met once in the 2011 Capital One Bowl and a bloody affair it was. The Crimson Tide held an 11-1 Spartans team to 171 yards of offense in what is still the most lopsided game in the history of the Capital One Bowl. Both teams are in a different place than they were five years ago, but that loss is hard to forget.
3. Mark Ingram Jr.
Mark Ingram Sr. was a standout wide receiver at Michigan State during the 1980s and many believed that his son, the superstar running back at Flint Southwestern (Mich.) Academy and No. 17 athlete prospect recruit in the nation, would follow in his footsteps in 2008. Instead, he signed with Alabama and head coach Nick Saban, who coached Ingram Sr. in East Lansing. Ingram, of course, won a national championship and a Heisman Trophy while in Tuscaloosa.
2. Nick Saban
To the casual fan, this would be a like Juliette Lewis and Angelina Jolie hating each other (Lewis was engaged to Brad Pitt in the 1990s.). However, Saban’s departure left bad blood on both sides. When he left Michigan State for LSU in 1999, Saban said the program would always be second fiddle to in-state rival Michigan. Then Saban offered Mark Dantonio (then an MSU assistant) and all of his assistant coaches jobs in Baton Rouge. LSU sent a charter plane to East Lansing to pick up coaches that wanted to join Saban and it came back with only pilots and empty seats. Those types of things are hard to forget.
Bear Bryant said his favorite team was his 1966 squad, which finished 11-0 and throttled Nebraska in the Sugar Bowl. The Crimson Tide also finished No. 3 in the AP and UPI polls, preventing a three-peat as national champions. At No. 1 in the AP poll was 9-0-1 Notre Dame and at No. 1 in the UPI was 9-0-1 Michigan State, who played each other to a 10-10 tie in what was called “The Game of the Century.” Many reasons are cited for the Crimson Tide’s ranking below them, the main one being the state’s atrocious record on civil rights at the time. Nevertheless, Alabama fans are still angry over the slight and there is an even a book about it titled, The Missing Ring: How Bear Bryant and the 1966 Alabama Crimson Tide Were Denied College Football's Most Elusive Prize.
— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.
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