As Michigan was putting the finishing touches on a 38-13 win over Wisconsin last Saturday, the stories of Jim Harbaugh and Michigan State started trickling to the Internet.

The narratives have essentially been the same. The “Harbaugh must beat Michigan State” angle has oversaturated the college football market this week.

I get it. Harbaugh is 1-2 against Mark Dantonio and 1-5 against the Spartans and Ohio State. This might be the best Wolverines team he’s had in his four seasons. A B1G title and College Football Playoff bid are on the line.

Saturday is a big game for Harbaugh and Michigan. Huge. It’s just not a must-win situation.

A victory over the Spartans obviously makes life easier for Harbaugh. He’ll avoid the Twitter storm bashing him for failing to get the job done. He won’t have to listen to Paul Finebaum’s wrath, calling out the head coach for “doing nothing” since taking over the program.

Instead, Harbaugh would even the score with Dantonio and essentially set up a winner-take-all bout against Ohio State in Columbus, a la 2016. Winning is always the easier path.

Let’s say the Spartans show up this weekend, much like they did last Saturday against No. 8 Penn State, pulling off an incredible upset in Happy Valley as a two-touchdown underdog. Dantonio improves to 3-1 against his in-state counterpart and Michigan is likely eliminated from the Playoff conversation.

Why wouldn’t the Harbaugh hot seat be a discussion worth having?

Even with a loss to the Spartans, Michigan would still have most of its goals in front of it. No, they technically wouldn’t control their own destiny, but the Wolverines would still be in contention to win the B1G East and would only need Michigan State to drop one additional game somewhere down the road.

With Purdue, Maryland and Ohio State left on the schedule, there’s a pretty good chance Michigan State wouldn’t run the table in its final five games. And a Spartan loss would put Michigan right back in the driver’s seat.

 Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

That should be enough reason for folks to keep their wits about them and keep the reactions mild should Michigan come out on the wrong end on of the score this weekend.

We know that won’t happen. For some reason, we love to go to the extremes with Harbaugh. Win, and he’s one of the best coaches in America. Lose, and Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel should be waiting in the parking lot, ready to fire his head coach on the spot.

Since my first argument won’t hold up, I’ll offer a second.

The significance of the outcome this Saturday pales in comparison to the importance that looms on that final weekend of the year. In the end, all that really matters is whether Michigan beats Ohio State. That’s the only game that can be classified as a “must-win” for Harbaugh.

Consider the following scenarios:

  • Michigan def. Michigan State and Harbaugh improves to 2-2 in the series; Ohio State def. UM and Harbaugh drops to 0-4 vs. OSU.
  • Michigan State def. Michigan and Harbaugh drops to 1-3 in the series; UM def. Ohio State and Harbaugh improves to 1-3 vs. OSU.

Maybe it’s just me, but I have a hard time believing anyone is going to care about the Michigan State result in either of those scenarios.

Lose to Ohio State, and nobody is going to care what happened against Michigan State. Beat Ohio State and nobody is going to care what happened against Michigan State. And the matchup against the Spartans shrinks in significance if “The Game” has a division title hanging in the balance.

Obviously, wins against both Michigan State and Ohio State — or losses on both of those games — changes the conversation. But that goes without saying.

As important as Michigan State is in this whole equation, it’s not Ohio State. And with all due respect to the Spartans, beating the Buckeyes is the only thing that matters for Harbaugh right now.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand how critical Saturday’s Michigan-Michigan State game is, especially in the B1G East. A win for the Wolverines almost guarantees that winner-take-all clash with the Buckeyes on Nov. 24. Harbaugh would be able to bypass all the “hot seat” noise that will undoubtedly arise if he doesn’t knock off the Spartans.

Saturday’s game is incredibly significant. It’s one of the biggest of the season for Michigan and one of the most important up to this point in the Harbaugh era.

It’s still not a must-win game.

That one is still a month away.