What you need to know: No. 7 Penn State at No. 24 Michigan State
UNIVERSITY PARK — Each week, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye on, and where and when you can catch the Nittany Lions on fall Saturdays this season.
Game details: at Michigan State, noon kickoff, broadcast on FOX.
Records: Penn State (7-1, 4-1 Big Ten), Michigan State (6-2, 4-1 Big Ten).
Venue: Spartan Stadium, capacity 75,005.
Weather forecast (via AccuWeather): High of 48 degree, with considerable cloudiness.
Overview: Both teams lost last week, taking some of the shine off this previously much-anticipated contest. It’s still a good draw for television, but Michigan State dropped to No. 24 in the AP Poll and out of the Coaches Poll completely after dropping a triple-overtime game at Northwestern. But the Spartans still have plenty of talent. They rank third in the Big Ten and eighth in FBS by allowing only 283 yards per game. And with an overcast and cold forecast, the weather should play to their favor. Saquon Barkley and Trace McSorley displayed plenty of resolve in postgame interviews Saturday evening following the loss to the Buckeyes, indicating there’s still plenty for them to play for, and that starts Saturday in East Lansing. By one estimation, Penn State has 20-1 odds to quality for the College Football Playoff — the Lions are seventh in the first playoff rankings — though the Lions’ chances feel better than that. With upsets every week and top-ranked teams tumbling in the rankings, Penn State can continue to climb by finishing out the season with four consecutive victories. The Nittany Lions will be favored in every game, and most likely by double digits in their final three contests. But first, as James Franklin would say: Michigan State, Michigan State, Michigan State.
The line: Penn State –7.5.
All-time series: Tied 15-15, with one tie, starting in 1914.
Last time they met (2016): Penn State pounded Michigan State 45-12 at Beaver Stadium to claim the Big Ten East Division.
Penn State wins if: the Nittany Lions avoid a letdown. Penn State has allowed only three points in the first quarter all season, and the Spartans have given up a combined 77 points in their two losses. If Penn State gets off to the same start as last week, that should give them enough clearance for the rest of the game.
Michigan State wins if: LJ Scott has a Saquon Barkley-type game and Michigan State holds Penn State to less than 30 points. The Spartans’ star running back has 511 yards and four touchdowns on the season. His production will be needed even more considering that Michigan State is averaging just 226 passing yards per game — the latter stat doesn’t bode well for the Spartans to keep up with the Lions. Penn State is averaging 40 points per game and has scored at least 30 in all but one contest, Conversely, Michigan State is averaging 22 points in its five Big Ten games. Good, but not great, and the Spartans need a great game from both Scott and their defense.
Count on: Trace McSorley throwing a touchdown, which he’s done in 23 consecutive games. It’s the school record, and one he’s been adding to all season.
Keep an eye on: scores from around the country. A handful of the teams ranked ahead of Penn State (and a few below) have tough-but-still-winnable games. Ohio State visits Iowa, Clemson travels to North Carolina State (ranked 20th), and Wisconsin will face Indiana at Bloomington. Also, games between Miami-Virginia Tech and Oklahoma-Oklahoma State will serve up two losses for teams competing with Penn State for an elusive spot in the College Football Playoff.
Trivia tidbit: In its last three wins against Michigan State, Penn State is averaging 45 points per game, scoring 40-plus in each contest. Score that many again, and the Nittany Lions should collect a convincing win.
Saquon Barkley record watch: Barkley is still third all-time at Penn State with 3,373 yards, behind Curt Warner (3,398) and Evan Royster (3,932).
*Season record: 8-0
*Season record against the spread: 5-3
Prediction: Penn State 38, Michigan State 21
*HappyValley season predictions