What you need to know: Penn State V. Michigan
Each week, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye on, and when and where you can catch the Nittany Lions on fall Saturdays this season.
Need-To-Know Details: Penn State (2-1) vs. No. 4 Michigan (3-0)/3:30 p.m./ABC
Weather Forecast (via AccuWeather): High of 76 degrees, cloudy with possible showers.
The Overview: The Big Ten season starts, which will now annually feature nine conference games. After a non-conference slate that featured inconsistent defensive play and too many turnovers, Penn State faces one of the best teams in the country.
The Line: Penn State +16
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 12-7.
Last Time They Met (2015): Michigan downed Penn State 28-16 at Beaver Stadium.
Penn State Wins If: The offense has zero turnovers and the defense shows up. And by zero turnovers, yes, that means zero. Not one. Penn State’s margin of error on the road against a Top-5 team is phyllo-dough thin. And the defense has actually played better than the results show. The aforementioned turnovers have allowed opposing defenses to either score or have great field position a few times. Though Pitt’s rushing attack and its ability to rack up big numbers still leaves fans wondering about the defense’s potential.
Michigan Wins If: They stay ahead of the weather* (so to speak). Coaches are fond of saying their team simply needs to move the chains, stay in their lane, etc. In other words, just do what’s needed and don’t try to overreach. Michigan doesn’t have to do anything special. If they play their game and stay ahead of the weather, the Wolverines should stay undefeated.
Count On: A Penn State running back not named Saquon Barkley making a big play. The Nittany Lion trio of Mark Allen, Andre Robinson and Miles Sanders has been contributing, though understandably, Barkley and his seven touchdowns have occupied the headlines. With the Lions having real depth this season, previously unknown players have been playing key roles — former walk-on linebacker Brandon Smith’s super-sized performance against Temple, for example. So who will step up this week? My guess is one of Saquon’s backfield colleagues.
Keep An Eye On: James Franklin. The third-year head coach is still searching for his first signature win at Penn State. How he oversees clock management and in-game adjustments will be directly compared to Jim Harbaugh, in his second season at Michigan and widely regarded as one of the better coaches in the country. He’s rejuvenated a tradition-rich program, which Franklin’s trying to mirror at Penn State.
Trivia Tidbit of The Week: Thus far, Franklin is 0-6 against Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State. Along with Penn State, these four teams should contend for the Big Ten’s East Division from now until the end of time. At some point, the Lions have to start collecting some victories in these crucial head-to-head matchups.
Trivia Tidbit of the Week, Part II: Penn State has scored 30-plus points in each of its first three games for the first time since 2008. The Nittany Lions finished that season 11-2 and were in contention for a national championship until a late-season loss at Iowa.
*Season Record: 2-1
*Season Record Against the Spread: 2-1
Prediction: Michigan 34, Penn State 20
* Thought it was appropriate to have a reference to Groundhog Day, which is based in Pennsylvania and has numerous references to Penn State.
**HappyValley.com season predictions