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Harbaugh, players trying to keep focus ahead of MSU game

They say every week is a “nameless, faceless” opponent, but this week is a bit different.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

The week everyone has been waiting for is here. The Michigan Wolverines travel to East Lansing Saturday to face the Michigan State Spartans for the Paul Bunyan Trophy.

After both teams went 2-4 a year ago, most people thought this would be a battle between two middle-of-the-pack Big Ten teams searching for a rivalry win that would add a positive spin to their season. Instead, both teams are 7-0 and facing off as top 10 teams for the first time since 1964. Almost every college football pregame show will be in East Lansing; it really doesn’t get better than this.

“There is the approach of one game at a time, which you need to do, you have to do that, you have to practice that,” head coach Jim Harbaugh said Monday to the media. “Now we’re in a situation, huge game, in some ways that mindset is similar and in some ways things definitely get turned up a notch.”

This is one of those games that can define the season. Harbaugh called it a “playoff elimination game.” Michigan lost this one last year at home as 24-point favorites. Senior linebacker Josh Ross knows how important this one is.

“It means everything,” Ross said. “Going out there playing Michigan State, in-state rivalry, it means a lot. We need to have great preparation.”

Despite the upset a year ago that turned Michigan’s season on its side, the Wolverines aren’t focused on what happened then. This is a new year and they understand this game is all that matters.

“Last year is over, this a new year,” Ross said. “We’re just ready to go out there and compete. Have a great week of preparation, and go get it this weekend.

The mindset Michigan has had on the opposition is its playing “nameless, faceless” opponents each week. While this still holds true this week, the team recognizes this game is still different.

“At the end of the day, it is nameless, faceless opponents,” Ross said. “Regardless of who we play, that’s how we view it. We’re just trying to go get it. But it is Michigan State week. We know that. We’re just ready to have a great week of preparation, and ready to go get it this weekend.”

With both teams still having Penn State and Ohio State on the schedule, Harbaugh is right about how big this game is.

“It’s one of those elimination mindset, playoff mindset at this point,” Harbaugh said. “Win this game, it’ll help your chances.”

Whoever wins will be 8-0 and still in great position to make a push for the Big Ten Championship in Indianapolis. Whoever loses — good luck.