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More than bragging rights at stake between Spartans, Wolverines

ANN ARBOR – As well as Michigan is already playing under new coach Jim Harbaugh, it would be easy for the Wolverines to get a little ahead of themselves.

It’s all a bit surreal, the idea that Michigan State is undefeated and yet Michigan is favored to beat the Spartans today.

“I’m sure there’s going to be attempts to build the game up, but we’re working and not worrying,” Harbaugh said earlier this week.

The 12th-ranked Wolverines could try all they wanted to block out the hype, but Michigan’s resurgence has raised the stakes for today’s game against No. 7 Michigan State. This is now much more than just a chance for Harbaugh to spoil the Spartans’ unbeaten run. The winner of this matchup – whoever it is – becomes a clear contender for a Big Ten title and a spot in college football’s playoff.

Michigan State (6-0, 2-0 Big Ten) is unbeaten, while Michigan (5-1, 2-0) hasn’t lost since its opener at Utah. Neither team’s record is a huge departure from what was expected against their early-season schedules, but the way the Spartans and Wolverines are playing has been a surprise.

Michigan State beat Purdue by three and Rutgers by seven. The Spartans were ranked as high as No. 2, but they’ve dropped amid mounting injuries and unconvincing victories.

Michigan, meanwhile, has shut out its last three opponents and is dominating games in a way many didn’t expect until a little later in Harbaugh’s tenure.

Michigan State has won six of its last seven games against Michigan.

Here are a few things to watch when the Wolverines host the Spartans:

RUNNING GAME: The team that ran for more yards has won 42 of the past 45 matchups in this series. Michigan State running backs LJ Scott and Madre London have been effective this season, and the Wolverines have leaned on De’Veon Smith.

INJURIES: Michigan State lost linebacker Ed Davis and defensive backs Vayante Copeland and RJ Williamson to long-term injuries, and the offensive line has also been in flux because of health concerns. The Spartans’ depth, especially in the secondary, is being tested.

TURNOVERS: Michigan might have beaten Utah if Jake Rudock hadn’t been intercepted three times in that game. He’s only thrown three interceptions since then, but Michigan State will surely try to rattle him with an aggressive pass rush. Defensive lineman Shilique Calhoun is one of the top players in the Big Ten.