Michigan State has owned Michigan on the gridiron as of late, winning the last five of six contests, but there's always one area the Wolverines have had the advantage—recruiting.
However, that too appears to be on its way to changing, and it may not be long before the Spartans are the big dogs of the state of Michigan in all respects.
It all hinges on the recruitment of one player, Malik McDowell, who has both in-state schools in his final four—along with Ohio State and Florida State. Should the 5-star defensive end choose Michigan State, the Spartans would have locked up its most high-profile recruiting class in school history.
More importantly, the Spartans would have also locked up the exact same number of 5-star recruits in this class.
Of course, there's a bit of a difference between the two schools in the recruiting rankings this year, as the Spartans currently have the No. 5-ranked class in the Big Ten, while Michigan is the No. 2-ranked class in the conference.
According to the 247sports "class calculator," adding McDowell would vault the overall score for the Spartans to 212.13. That would mean MSU goes from the No. 5 class in the Big Ten to No. 4—not a huge jump, but it puts them in the race with the big boys of OSU, Michigan and Penn State.
It's company the Spartans are used to hanging out with in recruiting rankings all that often. According to the 247sports conference rankings, Michigan State has not had a potentially higher point total or ranking since 2010.
However, point totals can be a bit misleading since some classes can rack up huge point totals based on the sheer number of recruits in the class. MSU has a bigger class than Michigan, so a better overall measure is looking at the average of the players.
In that, Michigan comes out ahead with an 89.9 average to MSU's 86.03. However, adding McDowell to the mix would vault the Spartans into the same territory as Michigan and would at least put them in the top three of the Big Ten.
Not only do the numbers on the recruiting trail tell a good story for the Spartans, but they also have an ace up their sleeve—winning championships.
It's something their neighbors haven't been able to claim since 2004. In 2013, after sniffing around the Stagg Championship Trophy for a few years, MSU finally claimed the title. It was the Spartans' second championship (it split the 2011 title, too) in a four-year span.
Not only that, but the entire college football world saw it take down two top five programs in a row to close out the season—beating No. 2-ranked Ohio State in the Big Ten championship and then No. 5-ranked Stanford in the Rose Bowl.
The power of the Rose Bowl on recruiting was not lost on head coach Mark Dantonio, who attempted to capitalize on the trip with recruits.
According to Joe Rexrode of the Detroit Free Press, Dantonio talked with recruits on his phone from midfield at the Rose Bowl, saying: “We’re at the Rose Bowl—come on, let’s go.”
He also spoke to Rexrode of the impact that move has on not just the 2014 guys, but for the future of recruiting at his program:
I think there is (a big impact), especially with younger players. Recruiting is so accelerated, you sort of have your (2014) guys sort of set in place. But we still have a couple we’re recruiting and you feel that surge, I guess you’d say.
None of the success on or off the field has happened by accident; it's been a slow and steady climb in both regards.
MSU's steady climb is now starting to pay off with more nationally recognizable faces in the recruiting department as well. No longer are the Spartans a team that needs to find the hidden gem and polish it. Instead, they can compete for some of the finer players and develop them even quicker.
Combining MSU's ability to develop players with higher-level talent is a scary proposition for it's Big Ten East rivals.
The 2014 class may not show Michigan State on top of Michigan when it's all said and done, but a class like this—where the Spartans pull in some of the top recruits—can be a major spring board to future success.
Attracting 5-star talent attracts other 5-star talent's attention. That, more than anything else, could be why the Spartans are on their way to being the future big dogs of the state.
So, while Michigan continues to recruit better according to the rankings, it may not be long before the Spartans are playing on the exact same plane—on and off the field.
*Andy Coppens is Bleacher Report's lead writer for the Big Ten. You can follow him on Twitter: @ andycoppens.
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