Indiana and Michigan State are certainly no strangers when it comes to matching up against one another, as both schools have been members of the Big Ten together for more than 60 years now. However, when it comes to the Hoosiers vs. Spartans rivalry, one probably thinks of basketball and names like Izzo, Knight, Johnson, and Alford. You don’t necessarily think of the gridiron and Randle El, Bell, Pont, and Dantonio.
The Michigan State vs. Indiana football rivalry remains one of the more underrated in the Big Ten, despite having its own trophy: a 19th Century “Old Brass Spittoon” that was purchased for $25 by an MSU class president in a Lansing antique store in 1950 with the hopes of giving some oomph to the Spartans and the rivalry.
This season, Indiana is 3-0 and Michigan State 1-2. While Michigan State leads the series 48-16-2, nothing is certain in a rivalry that has produced more than its fair share of hard-fought contests. Here are the top five.
5. Indiana 37, Michigan State 29
East Lansing – Nov. 10, 2001
I’ve got three words for you: Antwaan Randle El. A week after upsetting Michigan, the Spartans hosted quarterback Randle El and the Hoosiers’ prolific ground attack. MSU led 14-7 in the second quarter and had stopped IU’s offense when Randle El pooch-kicked the ball. It was touched by Spartan Duron Bryan and then recovered by Indiana just inside the red zone. IU tied the game five plays later when Levron Williams took an option pitch from Randle El and raced in for the score. MSU quarterback Jeff Smoker threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to Charles Rogers to retake the lead at 21-14. The Hoosiers tied the game and then took a 28-21 halftime lead when Williams broke free around the left end for an 80-yard touchdown run. The second half had a much slower pace. IU kicked a field goal early in the third quarter and MSU wide receiver Herb Haygood went vertical to catch a Smoker touchdown pass to close the lead to 31-28 going into the fourth quarter. With six minutes left in the fourth quarter, IU had 1st-and-goal on the one-yard line. Randel El pitched the ball to Williams, who was nailed by cornerback Broderick Nelson and fumbled. Linebacker Josh Thornhill recovered the ball. Smoker drove the Spartans to midfield but Herana-Daze Jones intercepted his pass. Williams closed the deal moments later on a 22-yard TD run with two minutes left in the game. Indiana finished with 489 rushing yards, 251 of which were gained by Williams. Randel El’s 149 rushing yards set the NCAA FBS career rushing record for quarterbacks (It has since been broken by West Virginia’s Pat White), and he clutched the Spittoon during the postgame news conference.
4. Michigan State 31, Indiana 27
Bloomington – Oct. 6, 2012
The Hoosiers put Michigan State on the ropes early, jumping out to 17-0 lead in the first quarter. Michigan State responded in the second quarter with touchdown drives of 75 and 65 yards to close the lead to 17-14. IU then extended its lead, adding a touchdown and a field goal in the final five minutes of the second quarter to go in at halftime up 27-14. An MSU field goal was the high point of an otherwise uneventful third quarter, but the Spartans saved their best for the end. Getting the ball back on its own 29-yard line with 14 minutes left in the game, MSU put together a methodical drive. Facing 4th-and-one from the 2, Michigan State’s workhorse running back Le’Veon Bell smashed ahead for the crucial first down. He made it into the end zone two plays later. Indiana then threw three incomplete passes and punted, giving MSU the ball on its own 49. Bell ran for 15 yards and then quarterback Andrew Maxwell hit Bennie Fowler with a 36-yard touchdown pass to take a 31-27 lead. IU again threw three straight incomplete passes and punted. Michigan State then leaned on Bell to eat the remaining six minutes of clock. He rose to the occasion and the game ended with the Spartans on the Hoosiers’ nine-yard line.
3. Indiana 24, Michigan State 21 (OT)
Bloomington – Oct. 1, 2016
Both teams entered the game at 2-1 and the Spartans looked poised for their third when they took a 14-0 third-quarter lead. Then Indiana cut the lead in half on a trick play where wide receiver Mitchell Paige threw a touchdown pass to quarterback Richard Lagow. The Hoosiers then scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to take the lead, but Michigan State tied it with 11 seconds in regulation. In overtime, Indiana forced the Spartans to kick a field goal, which fell short, and then drove to the three-yard line, where Griffin Oakes kicked the game winner.
2. Indiana 24, Michigan State 22
East Lansing – Nov. 9, 1968
This was a sloppy game played on a rainy day, but it made for exciting football. Both teams turned the ball over a total of 10 times in the first half alone. Nevertheless, Michigan State was up 15-10 at the half and seemed to have the game in control. In the third quarter, MSU quarterback Bill Feraco dove into the end zone from one yard out to put the Spartans ahead 22-10. The game seemed all but lost for the Hoosiers. Not only were they down, but also during the game they had lost starting quarterback Harry Gonso and tailback John Isenbarger to leg injuries. However, backup quarterback Greg Brown finally began to find his groove late in the third quarter. He drove the Hoosiers 72 yards down the field in 11 plays. Brown then scored on short run to close the gap to 22-17. Indiana later got the ball on its own 18-yard line with 2:37 left in the fourth quarter and Brown again led the team down the field. He scored again on the ground, this time from one yard out, with less than a minute to play, securing the improbable win. The Hoosiers finished the season 6-4 and would not have another winning season for another 10 years.
1. Indiana 14, Michigan State 13
East Lansing – Nov. 11, 1967
The most significant game in this rivalry is also the greatest. Indiana was undefeated and Michigan State was the defending national champion (it split the title with Notre Dame across crowning bodies.). The Spartans were able to keep IU’s offense in check by giving them poor field position and went into the locker room at the half with a 3-0 lead. The Hoosiers finally got on the board in the third quarter with a 70-yard drive punctuated by a Harry Gonso run. Later in the third quarter when Indiana was backed up just outside of its own goal line, Gonso was hit by Spartan defensive tackle George Chatlos and fell into the end zone. The referees called a safety and MSU took the ensuing kickoff and drove 51 yards in five plays to score a touchdown. On the extra point, Spartans holder Chuck Wedemeyer took the snap and popped up to hit Al Brenner in the end zone for the two-point conversion to put MSU up 13-7. Hoosier running back John Isenbarger, sidelined by a leg injury in this game as well, came off the bench in the fourth quarter for the decisive drive. He accounted for 59 of the 69 yards and the game-winning touchdown with 2:50 left. On the following series, Indiana linebacker Ken Kaczmarek intercepted MSU quarterback Jimmy Raye to seal the game. Head coach John Pont’s Hoosiers would go on to win the Big Ten that year. Indiana has not won the conference championship in football since.
— 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.