Do you have that friend that you make fun of constantly and just generally dislike a lot of the time, yet remain friends with them? I know I do. He is my Michigan.
As most of you know, I wasn't a Penn State fan until I attended the school. Previous to that, I was more of just a college football fan. I would, and still do, pull for my mother's alma mater, the Washington State Cougars (bring it on BTPR). Aside from that, I would just hope for good games and pull for the teams my friends pulled for. That included Michigan. One of my good friends was a lifelong Michigan fan, and he would host a party each year for The Game. Not only did this annual get-together foster my hatred for Ohio State, but it also cultivated my gradually-growing supportive stance for the Wolverines.
Then I enrolled at Penn State.
In the summer leading up to my freshman year, I did a fair amount of researching to learn about the Penn State team. I wanted to familiarize myself with the players and coaches (outside of Joe obviously), so I could have a stronger stake in rooting for the team right off the bat than I would have normally. Luckily, I happened to be placed on a floor in Sproul Hall that was also about to become the home of one of the most die-hard Penn State fans I know. Some of you know him as PSUDrumLine1234 or whatever the numbers that follow his name are. One of the first things he taught me about Penn State football was how to properly hate Michigan (and predominantly at the time, Denard Robinson). I learned the Blue Band's extremely crass but hilarious version of the Michigan fight song. I heckled Denard and the rest of the Wolverines during Penn State's triumph of 2010 (my first night game experience). I happily embraced using "And Michigan still sucks!" in everyday conversation. I can't honestly say that I've ever found my way to truly hating them though.
It could be because I grew up watching them play more often than most teams. Aside from The Game every year, I would always flip on a game if I saw Michigan in the game description.
It could be because despite the fact that it's fun to mention that Denard never beat Penn State, I actually love him as a football player. No, he's not a very good quarterback and was only able to stay at that position for most of his college career because not all starting NCAA defensive backs are very good. I know that, and you know that. But you can't tell me the dude isn't electrifying. His speed and his ability to make people miss are both pretty elite, and if he's given the chance to do so in the NFL, he should make an impact somewhere. It's hard not to respect the guy as a runner when he can do things like this.
It could be because Brady Hoke is a fantastic recruiter, and I enjoy watching him work. Three top 20 classes in the last three years (including two in the top ten) is no joke. Granted, it's not fun watching top prospects head to a rival school. When all is said and done though, having a guy who can recruit as well as Hoke only helps the national perspective on the Big Ten. Hoke, Meyer, and Franklin alone are changing the perception of the Big Ten in the eyes of outsiders and more importantly, recruits.
It could be because the current team has plenty of entertaining players. We at Penn State have become accustomed to seeing guys who sometimes just seem like oversized wide receivers, dominate the game from the tight end position. Michigan has one of those types on their roster in Devin Funchess. Funchess is a 6'5" beast who picked up 748 yards last year from the tight end spot. Many of those yards came in his performance against Penn State, in which he tortured the Nittany Lions D to the tune of 112 yards and two touchdowns. Then there's linebacker Jake Ryan. A seemingly unassuming three star recruit who became a mainstay on the defense when he was given the chance. He's also one who overcame an ACL injury, just like so many of our favorite Penn Staters have. While I don't love Devin Gardner's game as much as Denard's he's still a fun one to watch when he's healthy. Then there's even Shane Morris, one of the other 5 star quarterback recruits from Christian Hackenberg's year. Morris is another potential star, and watching he and Hack battle it out for at least a year will be special to watch.
Or maybe (and I'm thinking this is my main reason), it could simply be because I'm just not afraid of them. In the years that I have been paying close attention to Penn State and B1G football in general, Michigan has been uninspiring. In my four years at Penn State, we beat the Wolverines twice. In the last four meetings between the teams, Penn State is undefeated. Even outside of these games, Michigan has seemed to underachieve for the last several years. This could (and probably will) change very soon as all of Hoke's big time recruits are starting to work their way into starting roles, but until that happens, I just don't find myself shaking in my boots when I see Michigan on the schedule. That's not to say it feels like a gimme, but after what I've seen as a fan, I'm plenty confident heading into match-ups with the Wolverines.
I don't feel the same way about Michigan now that I used to. I have gotten to the point where I generally dislike them, just like my aforementioned friend. I constantly make fun of them, citing Gardner's proclivity for throwing interceptions, Fitzgerald Toussaint's hilariously terrible performance against Penn State, and the fact that they've only surpassed eight wins once in the last six years. And yet, I will root for them against every other B1G team as long as it doesn't conflict with Penn State's interests. So you know what? I guess that makes the Wolverines my favorite Penn State opponent.
Still though, never forget.
And Michigan still sucks.