According to old-time western movies, “the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.” In B1G Country, everything rises and falls in the East in terms of competition.

Usually, 2 cowboys find themselves in the middle of a stand-off, both stating how this place isn’t big enough for the both of them. In reality, there’s a 3rd gunslinger in the mix, but he’s away drinking at the local saloon, enjoying a day off from the fray.

When the sun rises Saturday on FOX’s Big Noon Kickoff in the little town of Ann Arbor, so do the B1G East stakes for No. 4 Michigan and No. 10 Penn State. Bragging rights are one thing. Standings are another. And in a division with Ohio State terrorizing the competition, one best believe a win will go far in the eyes of AP voters and the College Football Playoff committee.

Michigan (6-0, 3-0 B1G) will have a chance to keep its title as the Sherriff of the B1G come Nov. 26 when it travels to Columbus to take on the Buckeyes. For now, all eyes are on The Big House for a monumental matchup with a much-improved Penn State (5-0, 2-0).

There’s a difference between a good win and a bad win. Good wins come against combatants who live up to their reputation and put up a good fight. Bad wins feature 2nd-teamers taking reps halfway through the third quarter.

Where are  Michigan’s “good” wins on the season? Better yet, is there one?

Take nothing away from Jim Harbaugh, JJ McCarthy, Blake Corum and the rest of the Wolverines, but the level of competition Michigan has faced is underwhelming.

And yes, that could affect the impending CFP rankings, which come out for the first time on Nov. 2, after Week 9. Right now, Michigan doesn’t have much cushion for a loss. Michigan’s top game — a 34-27 victory over Maryland — isn’t terribly impressive.

The Terps’ offense ranks top 25 in total yards and top 40 in scoring. The other 5 opponents Michigan has faced hover between 97 and 131 in total offense. They also rank 98th or worse in scoring offense.

The value of ranked wins in the CFP era

Penn State might not have an impressive ranked win, either, but it does have a reputable road victory at its disposal. A trip down to Jordan-Hare Stadium will always be challenging for folks unfamiliar with SEC Country, so a “W” on The Plains against Auburn is a feather in the cap that could boost an 11-1 team.

It’s a much better win than beating teams like Hawaii, UConn and Colorado State.

Ranked wins matter. They go far in terms of strengthening the case for a shot at the CFP. And with the committee looking for the 4 “best” teams, conference affiliation might not matter in terms of grabbing the final spot.

In 2018 when Alabama and Georgia were both selected, the resumes were a factor. Georgia totaled 3 ranked wins and an SEC title to make the postseason. Alabama didn’t even make the trip to Atlanta, but its 3 top-25 victories were enough to push the narrative that the Tide belonged in the top 4.

In 2021, Alabama tallied 5 ranked wins on its way to an SEC title. Georgia, which lost to the Tide in Atlanta, had 4 wins against top 20 programs, enough to earn a CFP bid and eventually a rematch victory over Bama for the national title.

When considering 1- or 2-loss teams, voters will factor in ranked wins. Multiple teams from conferences have gone to the postseason before, and with College Football Playoff expansion coming, that’s going to be common in the future.

Right now, though, programs like Tennessee, Ole Miss and UCLA might be viewed in a brighter light than Michigan. The Volunteers have 3 top-25 wins entering Week 7, and will have a chance to pick up a 4th against Alabama at Neyland Stadium on Saturday. UCLA has 2 ranked wins with a shot at No. 3 against 12th-ranked Oregon in Eugene. The Rebels’ come-from-behind victory over then-No. 7 Kentucky could go far for them.

And Michigan? Its opponents have a combined record of 15-21 with 5 offenses ranked low enough to where you have digitally turned the page for the stats.

Is Saturday must-win for the Wolverines?

Michigan’s chances to add quality wins to its resume are dwindling. After Saturday, the Wolverines would have 2 more ranked opponents left on the schedule. The first would be No. 24 Illinois — which just ended its 11-year hiatus from the polls — on Nov. 19. For the Illini and its 88th-ranked offense to remain in the top 25, they’ll have to tally wins over Minnesota, Nebraska, Purdue and Michigan State.

Next up would be the Buckeyes. And yes, they’re likely ranked somewhere between No. 1 and No. 3 when kickoff ensues in The Horseshoe.

The Wolverines have a top-10 scoring offense. They rank 3rd in rushing touchdowns (20), 14th in yards per attempt (5.35), 20th in rushing yards per game (212.3) and 6th in red zone scoring. The defense is carrying its part of the bargain too, ranking top 10 in total defense (247 yards per game), run defense (81.7) and scoring (11.3 points per game).

Michigan’s a worthy program with an unworthy schedule. A win against the surging, top-10 Nittany Lions, riding high off a bye week, will catch the eye of those making the calls when the only rankings that matter first appear.

The B1G East doesn’t have room for 3 big guns. At least 1 must fall before the sun sets on Saturday. Ohio State will be enjoying its bye; it won’t be the Buckeyes.

That leaves Michigan and Penn State. There are no ties in college football anymore. Someone is going down.

A win Saturday will go far for both teams, but perhaps a bit further for Michigan.