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Football fans won’t be able to see Michigan Wolverines host Michigan State Spartans on Saturday

Michigan State running back Elijah Collins, center, is stopped by Michigan defensive linemen Carlo Kemp, left, and Kwity Paye in Ann Arbor on Nov. 16, 2019. (AP file photo)

By NOAH TRISTER

AP Sports Writer

ANN ARBOR — At the end of his video conference with reporters this week, Mel Tucker was asked point blank if he was intentionally avoiding using his next opponent’s name.

“I don’t think there’s any question from anyone who we’re playing this week,” Tucker said. “It’s the school down the road. I think we all know who that is.”

“That” is 13th-ranked Michigan — although Tucker, the new Michigan State coach, went with “school down the road” at times. As rivalry trolling goes, this was fairly tame, and after a season-opening loss to Rutgers last weekend, the Spartans may want to show more on the field before they start slinging any real insults at future opponents.

Indeed, this year’s version of Michigan State vs. Michigan feels a little more subdued — and not just because it’s being played in the second week of a truncated season in a fan-free environment Saturday at the Big House. There’s also the fact that the Spartans are reeling. Even before the loss to Rutgers, this figured to a tough season after coach Mark Dantonio’s retirement.

Dantonio had plenty of success against Michigan — and there was plenty of hostility between the programs over the course of his tenure — but the Wolverines have won three of the last four meetings, including a 44-10 rout in Ann Arbor last season that kept the Paul Bunyan Trophy with Michigan.

“It’s state championship week. The way I view this game, it’s like you’re in high school and you’re playing your No. 1 rivalry,” Michigan receiver Mike Sainristil said. “We’ve got to keep the trophy here. You never want someone to come into your home and take what’s yours.”

Michigan has a streak dating to 1975 of games at Michigan Stadium with crowds of at least 100,000. That will not be extended this weekend, and it will certainly be unusual to see this iconic venue so empty for the Wolverines’ home opener.

“It’s different, but it’s still a game,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “The red blood is pumping, and it’ll be really pumping for both sides in this game. No question about that.”