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Michigan vs. Michigan State: Jim Harbaugh knows but won’t say it

Photo: Andy Shippy

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh dressed the part during his Monday press conference: Shiny new glasses, a nice gray sweater over a button-up plaid and collared shirt, topped off by his trademark-worthy Michigan hat.

And his khakis, don’t forget those.

He looked… well… he looked like his team has looked for the past seven weeks.

He looked good. Well dressed. Sharp. Confident. Straightforward. Ready to take care of business.

Exactly like his team, really.

There are no frills at Michigan. What you see is what you get.

So, again, Harbaugh — who appeared very much confident and well put-together — certainly resembled his No. 2-ranked Wolverines, who have ravaged the Big Ten by scoring 48 points per game and holding teams to a touchdown and a field goal… on a bad day.

With that said, the Wolverines (7-0, 4-0 Big Ten) are at their highest point in 10 years, going back to when they were No. 2 in 2006. Meanwhile, the defending Big Ten-champion Spartans (2-5, 0-4) are in the midst of a five-game losing streak, struggling to find a pulse after losing 28-17 at Maryland — the Terps’ first win over Michigan State since 1950.

However, problems aside, Dantonio remains among the coaching elite. Harbaugh stressed his level of respect several times for Dantonio, who has won seven of the past nine meetings with Michigan (1-0 vs. Harbaugh).

“He’s done a great job, one of the best college football coaching jobs in the history of the game — at the highest level,” said Harbaugh, who watched his team lose 27-23 after botching a punt one year ago with 10 seconds to play.

Well aware of Dantonio’s knack for winning games on the final play, or for swinging the tide with a trick at any given time, Harbaugh said he’ll carefully devise a game plan geared toward the fine details. He never again wants to lose in that manner, he said.

With that being said, the past doesn’t matter much to Harbaugh. Michigan hasn’t shot out to 7-0 by thinking about what happened versus MSU one year ago. Conversely, the same could be said for Michigan State: A 2-5 record means nothing when it’s Green and White going against Maize and Blue.

“It doesn’t matter what’s happened before this week, for us, or for an opponent — it never does,” Harbaugh said. “It matters what happens on the game day. We know the task in front of us. We know the challenge. And it’s up to us to get prepared to play that game so we can go out their confident and execute and have a chance to be successful…”

In 2002, Michigan State, then under Bobby Williams, who took over for Nick Saban, entered Michigan week with a 3-5 record. Michigan State lost 49-3 and finished 4-8. In 2002, then under John L. Smith, the Spartans entered rivalry week with a 3-3 record. They lost 31-13 to the Wolverines and finished 4-8.

The past is the past, sure enough. But this season has resurrected images of the bad years for Michigan State. Dantonio isn’t Smith or Williams, and the current Spartans don’t appear to be anything like the teams that were blown out 10 and 14 years ago by the Wolverines.

But there’s no questioning that these two in-state programs are headed toward drastically different fates this year. UM could run the table and make the College Football Playoffs, while Michigan State could easily finish at 4-8 and miss bowl eligibility.

Again, though, throw all of that out of the window during rivalry week.

That’s the company line, anyway.

But Harbaugh has to know he has a stark advantage. He has to know that his No. 1-ranked total defense and pour-it-on offense has more than enough to knock off MSU.

But he won’t say it. His sportsman nature won’t allow for such commentary.

Results will do the talking on Saturday.

“They’re a very good football team,” Harbaugh said. “We know we’ll be tough to beat. We know they’ll be tough to beat. But in the meantime, we have to prepare for the game.”

Follow Adam Biggers of Today’s U on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

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