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Michigan and Michigan State fans have something in common this weekend:
The Wolverines will be glued to their television sets, hoping Clemson or Washington loses so they can sneak into the national championship playoff, while the Spartans will begin an offseason of rebuilding and retooling.
So we’ll finally have a fall Saturday without any Michigan-based college football for the first time in months, right?
The biggest college football game in the history of West Michigan is actually taking place this weekend, and it features a prominent local connection.
Former Muskegon Big Red head coach Tony Annese will take his 11-2 Ferris State Bulldogs to Allendale on Saturday to face the 12-0 Grand Valley State Lakers in the NCAA Division II national quarterfinals.
The two teams faced off earlier this season with Grand Valley winning 35-23 in front of an impressive crowd 16,889 fans.
But a lot more will be on the line this time around. The winner will advance to the Division II semifinals on December 10, with a chance to keep pushing for a national championship.
The fact that Grand Valley beat Ferris 38-34 in the playoffs last year has clearly weighed on Annese, who has refused to talk to the media this week. He’s probably feeling a little pressure, because Saturday is an important day for his program.
In his four-plus seasons with the Bulldogs, Annese has an overall record of 48-11 and a playoff mark of 3-2, which includes two postseason wins this year.
That’s pretty impressive, especially since Ferris State had a 24-31 overall record, with no wins over archrival Grand Valley and no playoff appearances, in the five years before Annese took over the program.”
Annese can also boast of an overall 4-2 record against Grand Valley State and head coach Matt Mitchell. That record was 4-0 until the Lakers shocked Ferris State last season in the playoffs, and again earlier this year.
But now the pressure is on Annese to prove that Michell hasn’t figured him out, and he and his team are ready to take the next step by winning a regional title.
Annese and his staff have done a masterful turnaround job at Ferris State. But they have yet to win the big one when it matters the most. The college football world will be watching on Saturday to see if they can do so.
Without a win, Annese’s coaching resume would still be impressive, but perhaps a bit lacking. His teams have mostly beaten up on a weaker GLIAC conference opponents in recent years. Grand Valley is the traditional power that the Bulldogs measure themselves against.
When the Bulldogs beat Grand Valley, it’s big news. When they fail to do so, some luster is lost.
Annese has shown some interest in moving up to coach in the Division 1 college ranks. He reportedly interviewed for the Central Michigan University job in 2015, but was not hired.
If Ferris wins on Saturday, he’ll finally have a resume that shows he’s ready for the next step. Division 1 schools looking for new coaches will probably take notice. If Annese still wants to move up the career ladder, this could be a prime opportunity.
Saturday is more than a playoff game for Annese and Ferris State. It’s a statement game for the program.
As a soon-to-be GVSU graduate, I personally hope that Ferris falls and the Lakers can reclaim a stranglehold in this rivalry. But I don’t think that will happen.
Annese has been a winner everywhere he’s coached, and winners come through in the biggest of games. This may be a big game for the Lakers, but it’s huge for the Bulldogs and their head coach.
Prediction – Ferris State 38, Grand Valley State 35.