In his weekly news conferences, Jim Harbaugh can be curt yet helpful, explanatory yet dismissive, sarcastic yet engaging.

All of those were on display Monday when the Michigan coach previewed the sixth-ranked Wolverines' visit to No. 8 Michigan State for a matchup carrying not only Big Ten title implications, but College Football Playoff overtones as well.

The Wolverines and Spartans are both 7-0 and 4-0 in conference play heading toward their first meeting since 1964 with both teams ranked in the Associated Press top 10.

So, just how big is this game, Coach Harbaugh?

"Obviously, those are the kinds of questions that answer themselves,'' he said, a refrain he'd trot out a couple of more times.

Up Interstate Hwy. 96 about an hour to the northwest, Mel Tucker held court, too. The second-year Michigan State coach played things close to the vest but didn't shy away from the significance of the contest.

"We all know this is a big week and what this is all about, playing the school down the road for the Paul Bunyan Trophy,'' he said. "… We understand this is not just another game.''

Saturday's showdown at Spartan Stadium (11 a.m., FOX) suddenly has become the game of the year, so far, in the Big Ten and one that will take a big step in determining the East Division champion.

Both the Spartans and Wolverines still have to play No. 5 Ohio State (6-1, 4-0), plus Penn State (5-2, 2-2), a team that can be dangerous when healthy. The East champ likely won't be determined until Nov. 27, and the winner in East Lansing will at least control its fate in the division race.

"There's the approach of one game at a time, which you need to do,'' Harbaugh said in a moment of detail. "You have to practice that, you have to implement that, lest a team be painfully humbled. Now we're in a situation: huge game, and in some ways that mindset is similar, but it definitely gets turned up a notch.''

Saturday's game is especially important for Harbaugh, who has yet to raise the Wolverines to the heights expected when he was hired in 2015. Michigan has not defeated Ohio State and is 3-3 against Michigan State under Harbaugh. In January, Harbaugh signed a five-year, incentive-laden contract extension. He's making a base salary of $4 million this year, half of his 2020 base of $8 million.

Michigan State, meanwhile, has rebounded well from a 2-5 debut in 2020 for Tucker. Running back Kenneth Walker III, a transfer from Wake Forest, leads the Big Ten with 142.4 rushing yards per game. The Spartans own a 38-17 win at then-No. 24 Miami (Fla.), but there are questions, too. Their five Power Five victories are against teams with a combined 14-22 record.

Tucker, who played defensive back at Wisconsin in the early 1990s, began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Michigan State, so he knows the importance of the rivalry. He agreed with the suggestion that it's easy to ingrain the rivalry's level of intensity in his newcomers.

"In this type of rivalry, I believe so because it's in your face and it's not just today, it's every single day,'' Tucker said. "Since I've been here, Feb. 12, 2020, there hasn't been a day that's gone by that someone hasn't mentioned to me something about this game.

"It's bragging rights,'' he added, "and it's important to everyone who's associated with the game.''