While a victory next Saturday over Purdue would vault the Wolverines into the Legends Division race, a win over Michigan State Oct. 20 is crucial to Michigan's future.
The Wolverines' embarrassing losses to Alabama and Notre Dame, coupled with a fifth straight loss to the Spartans, would severely damage the progress Michigan made last season—both on the field and along the recruiting trail.
National recruits have recently noticed that Michigan is far from being a primetime performer, but imagine how statewide recruits might process a fifth consecutive Spartan win.
Brady Hoke's current recruiting class is nothing short of sensational, but you can bet Michigan State will be sending an intriguing message to members of the 2013 class and beyond. In fact, Michigan's 2013 recruits are still technically fair game, and won't be "official" until National Signing Day next February 6.
Hoke would hate to see the recruiting momentum slip. When he took the Michigan job, Hoke promised to give Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio a run for his money. In his initial recruiting class, Hoke grabbed seven players from the Associated Press All-State team, while the Spartans were able to land just one.
In Ohio, Michigan signed five of ESPN's top 10 players, while State was totally shut out.
In fact, Scout ranked Michigan's 2012 recruiting class No. 4 in the nation while the Spartans ranked 38th. Hoke's 2013 class picked up where the last one left off.
The Michigan class currently ranks No. 1 in the nation, according to Scout, while Michigan State stands at No. 39. The Wolverines have six commitments from the state, including Shane Morris, Scout's No. 3-ranked quarterback in the nation. Michigan State has three 2013 commitments, including the No.16-rated outside linebacker, Jon Reschke.
When the season began, it appeared Michigan would have a great chance to end the Spartan streak. Denard Robinson would be entering his senior year as Michigan's record-setting quarterback, while junior quarterback Andrew Maxwell would be replacing steady-if-not-spectacular Kirk Cousins.
Michigan tailback Fitz Toussaint was expected to pick up where he left off, finishing the 2011 season with 1,041 rushing yards despite not earning the starting job until midway through the season.
Robinson, however, was ineffective against Alabama and was atrocious against Notre Dame. For the season, he has six touchdown passes and eight interceptions, while completing passes at a rate of 54.5 percent.
Toussaint missed the opener due to an alcohol-related suspension and has taken until the second half of the 14-6 loss at Notre Dame to get untracked.
Michigan State has started 3-1, including a 20-3 loss to Notre Dame at Spartan Stadium. The Spartans looked as bad, perhaps worse, than Michigan did against the Irish.
Otherwise, Maxwell has performed as expected. The junior quarterback has recorded Denard-like passing stats: three touchdown passes, three interceptions and a 56.6 completion percentage. The bright spot has been the running of Le'Veon Bell, who already has 610 yards for the season, including 77 against Notre Dame.
Comparing defensive stats would be a reach, since Michigan faced a pair of tough offenses in Alabama and Air Force. The Wolverine defense was solid against Notre Dame, however, holding the Irish to 239 total yards and 14 first downs. In comparison, Notre Dame accumulated 300 yards and 16 first downs against Michigan State.
Picking a winner between the two squads would be difficult. Michigan is playing at home, has revenge on its mind and has the college game's most dynamic player, if he plays that way.
The Spartans? Well, they have the "karma" of the four-game winning streak and the anger over Michael Hart's "Little Brother" reference.
Regardless of who wins, high school recruits throughout the Midwest will get an earful, and very soon indeed.