The game of the week in college football this week is an old Big Ten rivalry with massive implications both inside the conference and nationally, as the no. 7 Penn State Nittany Lions host the no. 16 Michigan Wolverines. Game time is set for 7:30 EST on Saturday, October 19 at Beaver Stadium in University Park, Pennsylvania.
According to our Week 8 college football odds, the Nittany Lions are 9-point favorites at home. The over/under for the game is set at 45 points.
Penn State remains one of the nation’s unbeaten teams after surviving a road game with Iowa last week. The Nittany Lions sit at 6-0 overall and 3-0 in conference play. They look like a legitimate contender in the Big Ten title race and a candidate to reach the College Football Playoff for the first time.
Of course, Penn State’s season will likely come down to their trip to Columbus to face Ohio State later in the season. To make that game meaningful, the Nittany Lions likely have to remain undefeated until then. There’s a chance PSU could remain in the CFP conversation if they take a loss, but running the table is the only way to guarantee a spot in the top-4 at season’s end.
Michigan, meanwhile, is already in a can’t-lose mindset. After their debacle against Wisconsin last month, the Wolverines know they need to win out to put themselves in the CFP conversation. The silver lining is that Michigan’s schedule is so difficult that winning the rest of their games would probably be enough to put them in the CFP with one loss.
The Wolverines already survived one test against Iowa a couple of weeks ago. However, they still have three top-10 teams left on their schedule, starting with this week’s trip to Happy Valley. If Michigan can come away with a win, they’ll get their toughest remaining games at home, including next week’s showdown with Notre Dame and the season finale against Ohio State. But those games won’t matter as much unless the Wolverines can knock off Penn State on Saturday.
When these teams met last week, the Wolverines dismantled the Nittany Lions 42-7 in Ann Arbor. Jim Harbaugh is 3-1 against James Franklin and Penn State as the Michigan head coach. However, the Nittany Lions were victorious the last time they hosted the Wolverines in 2017, winning a 42-13 route.
The last three games between these teams have been blowouts in favor of the home team, so the 9-point spread doesn’t feel that big to me. I was a little skeptical of Penn State earlier in the year, but I’m coming around on the Nittany Lions whereas my faith in Michigan is not quite as strong. I’m willing to lay down the points and take Penn State to win by double figures and cover.
There’s no about in my mind that the Penn State defense is the best unit in this game. They’ve allowed no more than 13 points in any game this season and have given up 19 total points over their three Big Ten games. They bent a little against Iowa but were ultimately able to shut down a tough Iowa rushing attack and force two turnovers. The Nittany Lions have the kind of front-7 that can win in the trenches against just about any team in the country.
For a Michigan offense that’s been a little inconsistent this season, I think the Penn State defense will give them more than they can handle. I’m not going to give the Wolverines too much credit for scoring 52 and 45 points against Rutgers and Illinois, respectively. Those are two of the worst teams in the Big Ten and not exactly good preparation for facing the Penn State defense. The Wolverines haven’t run the ball against quality opponents and without a reliable rushing attack, I’m not sure Shea Patterson can stand up to the heat he’ll be under from the PSU defense.
In fairness, there’s a chance that Michigan’s defense can keep them in the game and force an ugly, low-scoring game as they did against Iowa a couple of weeks ago. Since the beating they took against Wisconsin when they gave up over 350 rushing yards, the Wolverines have stepped up big time, especially against the run. On the other hand, they also made some mistakes last week and allowed Illinois to sneak back into the game. While good, the Michigan defense is far from infallible.
More importantly, I’m starting to come around on PSU quarterback Sean Clifford. His mobility and toughness are impressive, making him an important part of the team’s running game. The Nittany Lions will need that element from Clifford to help soften up the Michigan defense and create opportunities in the passing game. While his accuracy has been inconsistent this year, Clifford has limited himself to just two interceptions in six games, which is good news, as the Wolverines have to win the turnover battle to have a chance.
Ultimately, this figures to be a low-scoring defensive slugfest. But I think the Penn State defense will dominate the game at home while the Michigan defense will just be trying to be keeping their team in the game. I like the Nittany Lions to find a breakthrough in the second half and score enough points to win by 10 points and cover the spread.