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Michigan football: How can Maryland game affect playoff rankings?

Michigan hosts Maryland at 3:30 p.m. Saturday

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As the college football season winds down and the College Football Playoff race heats up, every game is important for contenders. One mistake can change an entire game, which can change an entire season and ruin a team's hopes of playing for a championship.

This weekend's game is no different for the Michigan Wolverines. With road tests against Iowa and Ohio State looming later in November, fans might be looking past D.J. Durkin's Maryland team. But Saturday is another opportunity for Michigan to strengthen its resume and pave its path toward the playoff.

Here are five ways Saturday can affect Michigan's ranking:

Return to dominance

Even though Michigan has three wins against teams ranked in the top 15 of the College Football Playoff poll, the most impressive part of its resume has been its dominance over both ranked and unranked teams. The Wolverines are winning by an average of 35 points through eight games.

Michigan has won five games by more than third points, including a 39-point win over No. 12 Penn State and a 78-point dismantling of Rutgers. Even Colorado, which is 7-2 and one of the leaders in the Pac-12 South race, fell to Michigan by 17 points after jumping out to a huge lead.

If Michigan can bounce back from a 9-point win in East Lansing and dominate Maryland, it will be further proof that the Wolverines are on another level in the Big Ten.

'Wins against teams with winning records'

Every year, one of the College Football Playoff committee's favorite phrases is "wins against teams with winning records." The members of the committee put great importance on winning these games, even if the opposing team isn't ranked.

READ10 takeaways from College Football Playoff rankings

Michigan has an excellent opportunity over the next two weeks against 5-3 teams that obviously fit into the "teams with winning records" category. Maryland has a game against Rutgers to end the season, so if the Terrapins can pull off an upset in mid-November, they could finish 7-5 and give Michigan another good win in the committee's eyes.

One of the few

Undefeated college football teams are an endangered species -- only five remain in the FBS and four remain in the Power 5.

As a team that hasn't been in the mix for the College Football Playoff before this season, Michigan is quickly changing its national perception under coach Jim Harbaugh. Only four teams in major conferences have been perfect, and Michigan is one of them.

But that perception can change with a single loss. Teams like Louisville and Ohio State are one play away from being undefeated, but because they dropped a game, they've lost all of their breathing room for the rest of the season. Louisville might not make the playoff if it wins the rest of its games. Ohio State absolutely has to win the rest of its games to get in.

If Michigan wants to stay ahead of the curve, it needs to stay perfect Saturday.

Stay atop Big Ten race

In the Big Ten West Division, five teams are very much alive in the race. But in the Big Ten East, Michigan has the obvious inside track to Indianapolis.

Right now, Michigan's path to the Big Ten title is clear-cut. If it doesn't stumble over the next three weeks, the game against Ohio State will decide who wins the division. If Ohio State stumbles over the next three weeks, Michigan will have some breathing room.

It's also important for Michigan to stay unbeaten before its trip to Columbus and keep Penn State at bay. The Nittany Lions are quietly in second place in the Big Ten East, and could win the division if Michigan finishes with two losses. Penn State will be favored in each of its final four games, but as long as Michigan keeps pace, there's nothing the Nittany Lions can do to catch up.

Sit back and watch

Since its top-10 matchup against Wisconsin, Michigan has been able to cruise through its schedule and watch fellow contenders around the country drop off as the pool of eligible teams grows shallower.

This weekend, Michigan has another chance to survive and advance while other teams get eliminated. There are only 11 undefeated or one-loss teams left in the Power 5 conferences, and teams like Florida, Nebraska and Baylor face tough tests that could knock them out of the running.

READMichigan football weekend rooting guide -- Nov. 3-5

Crazy things happen late in the college football season, so if a shocking upset takes place, like Washington losing to California or Nebraska topping Ohio State, Michigan wants to be in position to take advantage. The Wolverines just have to avoid being the team involved in the madness.