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Yahoo Sports’ Dan Wetzel and Pete Thamel, and Sports Illustrated’s Pat Forde discuss the showdown between No. 6 Michigan and No. 8 Michigan State on Saturday, and debate how important the game will be to Jim Harbaugh’s future at Michigan.
DAN WETZEL: I mean, I think Michigan State's just playing with house money at this point. It's certainly possible they could win the Big Ten in this final month of what's gonna be Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, and perhaps Penn State. We'll see. Without Sean Clifford, they really aren't any good. But we'll get to some Penn State.
But for Harbaugh, I think what's interesting here is like the season has undoubtedly been a success so far. All the can he win the non-conference-- well, Washington, they cooked them. Washington wasn't that good. They went on the road to beat Wisconsin. They went on the road and won a classic game against Nebraska. They've pounded some teams they were supposed to pound. They survived an upset scare from Rutgers. Everything's rolling along. How important is this game for Jim Harbaugh, who has already answered every important--
PAT FORDE: Yeah.
DAN WETZEL: --call this season, Pat?
PAT FORDE: No, I mean, it's a pretty fascinating conundrum. And I think you look and say, all right, he's done way better than his two predecessors, Brady Hoke and Rich Rodriguez. But you know that's a program that wants to be in that double-digit wins, up to 12 wins, maybe up to 13 wins. Win the Big Ten, that's always been a big thing there. You know, compete for a national championship, and he has not done that.
Now this is a reboot this year, OK? Reshaped his staff. Younger staff. Really helped him, I think. By all accounts, energized and engaged there. And so you're 7 and 0. And, yes, you've checked all the boxes you have to check.
But to your point, Dan, to answer your question, big game, I think, for them to continue the momentum, to make everyone believe, OK, we have taken a step back. We're back on the way up. We have stopped stagnating and then last year declining. Now we're going back up. And maybe we're not gonna be quite good enough to beat Ohio State, and that really sticks in the craw of Michigan people. But if you get to Ohio State 11 and 0, and you have that big game in the Big House, and you at least stay on the field-- you don't get blown off of it as you have been several times recently by the Buckeyes-- I think everybody's pretty energized about where the program is.
But you got to beat Michigan State first. I used your exact phrase on Big Ten Network today. Michigan State is playing with house money. Mel Tucker is playing with house money. They have wildly overachieved. You know, this was not expected from them by any stretch. And so, you know, you give them credit. Sure, they very much want to beat Michigan because that's their biggest rival game. But at the same time, if you don't beat Michigan, nobody's gonna say, oh, Mel Tucker can't do it. Oh, the program's no good. I mean, everybody's pretty energized about where they're headed right now. So if you ask me who needs it more, Jim Harbaugh and Michigan needs it more.
PETE THAMEL: I would agree with that. And I think right now for Michigan, when you look at Harbaugh and Harbaugh's future-- because, look, they should-- I mean, they're 4 and 1/2 point favorites at Michigan State. They should beat sort of an Indiana team that is feeling the force of gravity come crashing down upon their program.
I think that one thing Harbaugh has done this year is he has sort of rallied the administrative base. He worked with Warde Manuel for these hires. Warde Manuel's had a big hand in this staff overhaul. So even if they lose to Michigan State and they get walloped again by Ohio State and maybe drop another, I don't think Harbaugh is in any danger. I don't think Michigan institutionally is Auburn or is one of these places that says we need a league title or bust. I think Michigan--
PAT FORDE: Right.
PETE THAMEL: --is going to be just fine. And they have shown this time and time again. They have accepted a program that's good enough to come in second place. And, look, all his Michigan teams, there's been no issues off the field, right? I mean none that I can think of any kind of prominence. And Jim Harbaugh has done a good job coaching Michigan. Nobody at Michigan wants to be part of firing Jim Harbaugh. That's a big deal. That's hard to do.
That's like Florida firing Tim Tebow or something like that. You know, it's like when BYU brought in Ty Detmer as an offensive coordinator. It was a disaster. That's a hard divorce now. It's different when your coach is your legendary player. So he is not the best quarterback in Michigan history, I want to be very clear about that. But he's definitely at the top of that second tier. So it's been fascinating. I mean, look, say this about Harbaugh, it's never been boring ever.