Saturday, January 22

Jim Harbaugh’s defining moment against Michigan State comes in the top-10 showdown

When Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh really doesn’t want to answer your question, he triggers a predetermined answer at the press conference and repeats that phrase over and over again.

Harbaugh had one in line for questions about Saturday’s top-10 showdown between No. 6 Michigan and No. 8 Michigan State at Spartan Stadium (12pm, FOX).

How much do you appreciate the first top-10 showdown between schools since 1964? What would a victory mean for the Wolverines? How would this affect recruitment in Mitten State?

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“Obviously, those are the kinds of questions that answer themselves,” Harbaugh said at his news conference Monday. “It’s a great game for us. We are very excited about it.”

Harbaugh is right. Michigan would improve to 8-0 with a win against its rival in state, claim the Paul Bunyan Trophy and continue in November with a mulligan in his back pocket before the Nov. 27 showdown with Ohio State.

“It’s an elimination mentality,” Harbaugh said. “A playoff mentality right now. Win this game and it will increase your chances.”

Harbaugh’s hot talk has died down this season, while USC and LSU have made coaching changes.

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Harbaugh rebuilt Michigan after bottoming out last season with several new assistants. The defense ranks second in the FBS with 14.3 points per game behind Georgia. The Wolverines rank fifth in the FBS in rushing yards with 253.3 yards per game. It’s a flashback formula from the ’70s that led to a surprising 7-0 start.

Running backs Blake Corum (729 yards, 10 TD) and Hassan Haskins (602 yards, 10 TD) have been at the heart of that, and quarterback Cade McNamara led the road wins in Wisconsin and Nebraska.

It’s hard to tweet about Harbaugh when the Wolverines are undefeated. Unless, of course, you live in Columbus.

Or East Lansing. The Spartans are also 7-0. Michigan State has a candidate for the Heisman Trophy in Kenneth Walker III, and they are at Spartan Stadium on fire to defeat the Wolverines, just like last season.

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You can make a strong case that this is the most important game for Harbaugh this season. Lose here, and the bad tweets about not being able to win the big game come back. After all, Michigan hasn’t faced a ranked opponent and is 2-12 against the top 10 teams under Harbaugh.

Michigan vs. Top 10 under Jim Harbaugh

October 10, 2015 No. 7 Michigan State 27, No. 12 Michigan 23
November 28, 2015 No. 8 Ohio State 42, No. 12 Michigan 13
October 1, 2016 No. 4 Michigan 14, No. 8 Wisconsin 7
November 26, 2016 No. 2 Ohio State 30, No. 3 Michigan 27
December 30, 2106 No. 10 Florida State 33, No. 6 Michigan 32
October 21, 2017 No. 2 Penn State 42, No. 19 Michigan 13
November 18, 2017 No. 5 Wisconsin 24, No. 19 Michigan 10
November 25, 2017 No. 8 Ohio State 31, Michigan 20
November 24, 2018 No. 10 Ohio State 62, No. 4 Michigan 39
Dec 29, 2018 No. 10 Florida 41, No. 8 Michigan 15
Oct 19, 2019 No. 7 Penn State 28, No. 19 Michigan 21
Oct 26, 2019 No. 19 Michigan 45, No. 8 Notre Dame 14
Nov 30, 2019 No. 2 Ohio State 56, No. 10 Michigan 27
January 1, 2020 No. 9 Alabama 35, No. 17 Michigan 16

The five losses to Ohio State stand out, but that losing trend began with “Punt Fumble’s” loss to Michigan State in 2015. That moment is the most talked about, even if it’s not the whole truth in the rivalry since Harbaugh arrived. .

Michigan can pull off three straight wins at East Lansing. Harbaugh had a 3-2 head-to-head record against Mark Dantonio, and it looked like the Wolverines were ready to regain control of the rivalry once and for all. Mel Tucker blew that away last year with a 27-24 upset, and the Spartans seem like a near mirror image of their brother in the state.

“He’s doing a great job,” Harbaugh said of Tucker.

The rivalry is less heated between the coaches since Dantonio left, but that doesn’t mean either side has forgotten the high point of the modern chapter. Since former Michigan running back Mike Hart issued the “Little Brother” proclamation in 2007, the Spartans have a 9-4 lead in head-to-head games. That still hasn’t changed the narrative of this Big Ten showdown.

Michigan is supposed to win this game. The Wolverines have been the favorites every year since Harbaugh arrived. Harbaugh hired Hart as his running back coach this offseason, adding another layer to this year’s game. Hart could be bothered more than Harbaugh at Spartan Stadium.

Michigan has to have a little more than the state of Michigan. This is the biggest game between schools since those other top 10 clashes, which took place between 1959 and 1964. Hardly anyone remembers them now. Everyone will remember the outcome of this game.

Win, and Harbaugh will have a month to prepare for that annual referendum against the Buckeyes, just like in 2016 and 2018. Ohio State will be heavily favored when they come to Michigan Stadium. No one really expects the Wolverines to win that one, at least not now.

You lose, and all those general questions about the show come back. Should Michigan hand over the quarterback position to rookie JJ McCarthy? Why does Harbaugh have a losing record against Michigan State after seven seasons? Is that hot talk applicable again?

Harbaugh likely has an autoresponder for them as well.

But really, the questions will have answered themselves.

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