Since Penn State joined the Big Ten in football in 1993, it has one only three times in Ann Arbor, MI. Over their time in the conference, no team has tormented the Nittany Lions as consistently and routinely as Michigan, especially during the Lloyd Carr years. Michigan won nine games in a row from 1997-2007 (didn’t play in 2003-4, Penn State’s worst years ever). Two historic programs (the game is often a White Out at Beaver Stadium), both at inflection points of sorts in the season, and beyond.
Penn State enters Saturday’s matchup a perplexing group, often taking two steps forward and just as many backward. The product of developing young players, the defense looks at times both impenetrable and clueless. The defense misses tackles and the receivers drop passes. The offense will produce a textbook scoring drive, then have an inexcusable turnover to stunt a drive, like what happened at the end of the Iowa game. But, blown 4th quarter lead-losses have turned into held-onto-wins, albeit against lesser opponents the past two weeks. As a program, they had consecutive 11-win seasons, which now appear to be the product of talented NFL starter-caliber players on both sides of the ball. Even James Franklin assessed the team is still ahead of schedule following the crippling sanctions, signifying that the conference title and NY6 Bowls were anomalies, not yet foregone conclusions. For Penn State to reach its ultimate goal of a Reloader, not a Rebuilder, they need to consistently beat top-5 teams like the one they’ll face this weekend. Will the Lions get out of their own way, finally clean up the mistakes and undisciplined play and pull off a huge road win on their way to another NY6 bowl, or will they succumb to a third loss against a team favored to beat them by 10?
Michigan, on the other hand, entered this season with program supporters loudly questioning coach Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh is constantly mentioned for potential NFL openings, and the team has not returned to elite status like Ohio State has under Urban Meyer. He has also not beaten the Buckeyes, blasphemy for fans of the Team Up North. This year, though, Michigan finally has the personnel to make a move, including grad-transfer QB Shea Patterson. The Wolverines enter the game in the top 5 in the CFP rankings, and a win over Penn State would set up a showdown against a suddenly questionable OSU team, against whom they could be favored even on the road. A loss against Penn State and Michigan would have two [good] losses, and CFP dreams might be dashed. Will the Wolverines finally take the step forward to return to national prominence in the CFP, or will they get “Harbaughed”, tripping again against a team it should beat?
This year, the conference is as up for grabs as it has ever been. Right now, Michigan appears to have the inside track in the East, controlling its own destiny and owning an undefeated conference record. The West is wide open, with Wisconsin’s tribulations, without an unquestionably good team. On a day with multiple national heavyweight battles, the Big Ten’s best game promises to be one fueled with emotion. Only one team’s dream, though, will still be in play after this weekend’s inflection point game in Ann Arbor.
About the Author:
Adam Kimmel is the founder and Principal at ASK Consulting Solutions, a technical writing firm specializing in engineering content writing. A 2003 graduate and avid fan of Penn State, Adam has followed Penn State football for over 25 years, attending nearly 50 games and researching historical players and teams. He is also a Manager of R&D, and can be found on LinkedIn