ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The stakes are always high when Michigan and Michigan State meet on the football field, and that’s especially true for the two programs this weekend.
While the Wolverines and Spartans appear to be trending in opposite directions, this game could make or break the season for both programs.
Here’s a look at what a win or a loss would mean for Michigan and Michigan State.
What a win would mean for Michigan
Jim Harbaugh took heavy criticism when his team got blown out at Wisconsin, and rightfully so. Michigan didn’t look anything like the team many expected to compete for a Big Ten title.
But with wins in five of their last six games, the Wolverines have at least salvaged what could have been an ugly 2019. At one point, Michigan was 2-1 with six ranked teams remaining on the schedule. Speculation that Michigan could lose as many as five regular season games didn’t seem impossible.
Now Harbaugh has a chance to get to 8-2 on the season and remain in the top 15 of the College Football Playoff rankings. That would be quite a turnaround over the course of two months.
More importantly, Harbaugh has a chance to finally beat Mark Dantonio at the Big House and take a 3-2 lead in the head-to-head series. In 2015, Michigan nearly had Michigan State beat before the dropped punt snap. In 2017, a heavily favored Michigan team mustered just 10 points in a surprising loss.
A win Saturday would keep Michigan’s 2019 season on the right track while also dispelling some of the narratives surrounding Harbaugh and rivalry games.
What a win would mean for Michigan State
The importance of this weekend’s game to Michigan State can’t be overstated.
MSU is currently in the midst of a miserable four-game losing streak, capped by a home loss to Illinois. The first three losses came against ranked opponents, but the Spartans weren’t even competitive.
Dantonio badly needs a win, and this is the type of situation in which he’s excelled throughout his career.
After ripping off six seasons of double-digit wins in eight years and even taking Michigan State to the College Football Playoff, Dantonio has watched what he built start to crumble.
Michigan State is coming off a disappointing 7-6 season and currently sits at 4-5. A win would not only end the losing streak, it would also silence many of the fans calling for Dantonio to step down, at least for the time being.
The Spartans are currently fighting to qualify for a bowl game, and a win over Michigan would all but guarantee a postseason appearance for a team with Rutgers and Maryland still on the schedule.
Dantonio has a reputation for winning when everyone least expects it. Can he do it one more time with an injured, short-handed roster?
What a loss would mean for Michigan
Chaos. That’s what you’ll see if Michigan loses to Michigan State this weekend.
Why? Because that’s what happens every time Harbaugh loses. People will bring up his record against rivals and the fact that he’s never taken Michigan to the Big Ten Championship Game.
The Wolverines will likely fall out of the CFP poll. All the progress Michigan made will be erased.
There’s a lot on the line for Michigan, and losing to a 4-5 Michigan State team at home would be a damaging blow to what has recently returned to a stable situation.
Michigan has been better than Michigan State at nearly every position this season, and in four years, Harbaugh hasn’t lost a game in that situation. Even though this is a heated rivalry game, it would be the worst loss of the Harbaugh era.
What a loss would mean for Michigan State
Nobody would have ever expected the Spartans to lose five games in a row, but that’s exactly the situation they’ll be in if they can’t pull off an upset this weekend.
A loss would put Michigan State’s bowl hopes on life alert with two easy games remaining on the schedule. The Spartans shouldn’t have any problem beating Rutgers on the road and Maryland at home, but going into that stretch with a 4-6 record would leave no room for error.
And this particular Michigan State team is known to need a little room for error.
Dantonio would also fall to 2-3 against Harbaugh, including two straight losses. Success against Michigan is one of the strongest remaining arguments in support of Dantonio. If his teams are no longer winning games they aren’t supposed to while also losing to teams like Illinois and Arizona State, unrest in East Lansing will continue to rise.
This is the last chance for Michigan State to do something positive in 2019. Wins over Rutgers and Maryland won’t mean much if the Spartans don’t have a signature moment.
A loss Saturday would set up a long off-season for Dantonio and his staff.