Michigan's 33-7 win over Northwestern on Saturday set the stage for an epic top ten matchup in East Lansing next weekend.
Sitting at a perfect 7-0 record, the Wolverines have clawed their way from unranked in the AP preseason poll to No. 6 in the nation. Separated by just a 63-mile stretch of highway, rival Michigan State is also off to a perfect 7-0 record and sitting at No. 9 in the latest AP top 25 poll.
The early success of both teams in 2021 has added to what is already one of the most intense rivalries in all of college athletics. In fact, the two programs have been nearly equal in terms of competitiveness over the last two decades - with the Wolverines holding a slight 11-10 advantage since 2000. While it's always been heated when the two programs meet on the football field, Mike Hart's infamous "little brother" comment in 2007 took the hatred and bitterness to new level.
What makes this year different, however, is that it's looking like No. 6 Michigan and No. 9 Michigan State will be ranked inside of the AP top 10 when the two meet on Oct. 30. If that is indeed the case, it will be the first time since 1964 that the two programs will square off while ranked in the AP top 10. To make matters even more interesting, It would also mark the first time since 2010 that the two programs would meet with undefeated records (5-0).
As if all of that isn't enough, there's the ever-growing microscope on Jim Harbaugh and his job performance at the University of Michigan. While there's no question that Ohio State has served as the primary issue of the Harbaugh era, the Spartans haven't necessarily been kind to Captain Comeback either. Six years into his tenure at Michigan, Harbaugh's 3-3 record against Michigan State has certainly been a sore subject among the Michigan fan base - particularly following the home loss in 2020 as a 21-point favorite.
It seems like every single week we're talking about "must-win" games for Harbaugh this football team, but I'm not sure that there's a single game on the 2021 schedule that Jim Harbaugh needs more than this one.
Michigan State is ascending under the leadership of second year head coach Mel Tucker, who already posts a 1-0 record over Harbaugh. With Michigan now looking like a legitimate championship contender, a second consecutive loss to Tucker and the Spartans would be devastating to Michigan's title hopes. A win, on the other hand, would set the table for Michigan to make a serious at the conference title and beyond.