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Much More than Just Wins and Losses on the Line for the Wolverines and Spartans on Saturday

Michigan can earn itself a seat the big boys' table, while the Spartans can solidify their grip on the state.

Jim Harbaugh's 12th-ranked Michigan Wolverines (5-1) will host Mark Dantonio's 7th-ranked Michigan State Spartans (6-0) on Saturday afternoon in one of the biggest games in the rivalry's history.

Take the storylines out of the equation and this on its own is matchup with large implications on the Big Ten East and the conference as a whole.

The Spartans under Dantonio have become a force to be reckoned with and have continued their winning ways this season, albeit unimpressively at times. You never apologize for getting the win, though.

Michigan had a ton of hype surrounding them leading up to the season and was humbled following a loss at Utah in Harbaugh's debut. Since then, they've smashed every opponent that has come their way and appears ready for a showdown.

A month or so ago, this was a game where many had it marked as a moral victory if the Wolverines could keep it close. That is no longer the case, and they are even favored by a touchdown in Vegas now.

Anyone expecting the Spartans to lay down are sorely mistaken. That is not their M.O. and I would not expect to see that on Saturday against their biggest rival.

Dantonio is great at playing the "disrespect" card with his football team. He has MSU in the thick of the playoff conversation and yet, everybody is still talking about the team in Ann Arbor. Who knows if the program will ever get the respect it truly deserves, but what better way to demand respect than to march into the Big House take out Harbaugh's Wolverines?

MSU has struggled at times this year and has been hampered by key injuries. This would be such a huge win for the Spartans and likely propel them through the rest of their conference schedule unscathed leading up to a Nov. 21 showdown with Ohio State, which is expected to have national title hopes on the line.

Many see MSU quarterback Connor Cook as a first-round prospect in this spring's NFL Draft. He has been inconsistent at times, and his draft stock is in no way going to drop if he does not perform all that well on Saturday, but if he is able to have a big game against Michigan's defense, he could solidify himself and make a whole lot of money.

MSU is the top dog in the state right now. Nobody can or should argue that and Harbaugh has even said it publicly. Michigan is playing great football right now and seem to get better with each passing week, but they have an incredible challenge ahead of them on Saturday, regardless of analysts and Vegas' opinion.

What Michigan can earn this week is a seat at the grown up's table. All season long, they have been close, but a win over the Spartans is the truest test so far on if the Wolverines are "back" or not. They do not see it that way and are preparing for the game like any other week, but Michigan fans cannot claim the state as theirs until they knock off the team they face Saturday.

And if Michigan does win, that does not mean MSU will regress as a program never to be heard again. As long as Dantonio is in East Lansing, they are in it. With Harbaugh in the mix, this rivalry -- and make no mistake about it, "Michigan Men," this is and always will be a rivalry -- can be taken to heights we really have never seen before.

Dantonio's rumored pitch to recruits has been "they are selling hope, we are selling results." To some extent, that is true, but the Wolverines can smash that narrative to pieces on Saturday.

There is quite a bit on the line in terms of recruiting, as well. The Spartans and Wolverines have not exactly crossed paths a whole lot recently, but 2017 and subsequent years has some of the best high school football talent that the state of Michigan has ever had to offer. Both will get their fair share of these players, but we will see how the landscape of in-state recruiting ends up. The Spartans have done a really nice job there in recent years.

Ultimately, Michigan has to start winning Big Ten Championships again before they have any room to talk over the Spartans, but it would be foolish not to admit they are headed in that direction. Will it be Saturday? This season? Next year? Who knows?

One thing is for sure, though. This is going to be an excellent game on Saturday afternoon with the eyes of the college football world focused on Ann Arbor.

Praise be to the football gods for meaningful games around these parts again.