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Staff Predictions: Penn State vs. Michigan State

Penn State is traveling to Michigan State this Saturday for the final game of the regular season. Our staff is fairly certain the No. 5 ranked Spartans will walk away with this land grant victory.

Ben Berkman (season record 10-1): Michigan State 33, Penn State 17

Nearly everything would have to go right for Penn State to have a chance Saturday at Michigan State. All-conference quarterback Connor Cook, currently a game-time decision would need to ruled out. The Spartans, looking ahead to a Big Ten championship showdown with Iowa, would need to come out flat and unprepared. James Franklin would need to manage timeouts and play calling much better than he has the past two weeks – both seemingly winnable losses marred by admittedly awful coaching decisions. And Penn State’s offensive line would need to better protect Christian Hackenberg (who was sacked four times) and open running lanes for Saquon Barkley (whose 14 rushes after his 56-yarder went for a total of 12 yards).

Unfortunately for Penn State, a game in which the Nittany Lions put all of its pieces together, especially on the road against one of the nation’s best teams, has been unachievable this season. It’ll be a 7-5 regular season for Penn State, and a trip to another middle-tier bowl game.

Patrick Koerbler (season record 8-1): Michigan State 30, Penn State 16

Whether or not Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook is healthy enough to play, I have a hard time seeing the Nittany Lions pull out a victory. This is a Spartan program that is playing for a berth in the Big Ten Championship Game, and then potentially a College Football Playoff berth. Of course, Penn State could come out and James Franklin could actually coach to win the game rather than just trying not to lose it, but that’s ultimately unlikely. Expect the Nittany Lions to keep things reasonably close like they usually do, but for Michigan State to pull away at some point in the third quarter.

Doug Leeson (season record 8-3): Michigan State 31, Penn State 14

Penn State’s defense is still really talented and pretty well managed, but for the third week in a row, it’ll get exposed a few times due to fatigue. That fatigue is a result of the offense getting off the field with drives that last less than a minute and don’t go past three downs (and yes, I just watched the Eagles lose on Thanksgiving because of that same problem).

Michigan State toppled the Buckeyes last week and is now trying to play its way into the Big Ten Championship and eventually the College Football Playoff. Penn State is trying to be in a decent bowl, not a bad one. The Spartans, especially at home, have more to play for which makes this an easy pick.

Another free prediction: The next time we see Penn State, it’ll be in Nashville for the Music City Bowl against Arkansas. Stay tuned for when real bowl destinations are announced December 7.

Jacob Abrams (season record 8-3): Michigan State 30, Penn State 17

At least the Nittany Lions are going bowling. That’s the only positive for Penn State fans as the team heads to East Lansing for its matchup against Michigan State to close out the regular season.

Unfortunately for Penn State, Carl Nassib is shaken up. The former walk-on sensation barely saw he field against Michigan, and it could happen again for the second week in a row. If Nassib is limited, expect the Spartans to take advantage by using the rushing duo of LJ Scott and Gerald Holmes. While the Nittany Lions will still have Zettel and company, Penn State could get burned from the Spartans’ ground attack.

Hackenberg will have to throw a lot in this game in what could be his last for the Nittany Lions. Penn State faces a Michigan State defense that held Ohio State to 86 rushing yards, which could spell trouble for Saquon Barkley. Michigan State’s strong run defense will force John Donovan to go through the air for the majority of the game. Penn State has the weapons to succeed, it just depends if it’ll have the right play calling for a upset win on Saturday.

Ethan Kasales (season record 8-2): Michigan State 34, Penn State 20

Despite the fact that Ohio State fans are cheering the Nittany Lions on to victory this Saturday for likely the first and last time, I just don’t see James Franklin’s squad pulling this one off on the road.

As much as I’d like to think the Penn State offense will be able to turn things around, given the fact that playing conservative serves literally no purpose at this point, I’m fairly certain we’ll see the same puzzling (to put it nicely) vanilla play-calling.

Whether or not Michigan State has QB1 Connor Cook (shoulder injury) under center shouldn’t matter that much, as Mark Dantonio’s fifth-ranked Spartans are simply too good in all three aspects to trip up with a Big Ten Championship Game bid on the line.

Matt Coleman (season record 7-3): Michigan State 35, Penn State 14

Remember how the Temple game was impossibly difficult to watch? This one may be just as difficult. After a devastating loss to Michigan last week which left a sour taste in everybody’s mouth, a loss to Michigan State this week will only make that sour taste worse with the fact that the Nittany Lions lost their last three games.

Let’s face it. Michigan State beat Ohio State last week with a backup quarterback, and whether or not he or Connor Cook play against Penn State, it just doesn’t matter. Both Tyler O’Connor and Connor Cook are capable of beating the Nittany Lions’ defense, and both of them will if they get the chance.

Another great thing Sparty did last week was shut down Ezekiel Elliot. That doesn’t bode well for Saquon Barkley. Without a solid run game established, Michigan State can bank on the fact the game will be on Christian Hackenberg’s right arm the whole time. A few pass rushes on the Nittany Lions’ offensive line will have Hackenberg hitting the ground more than a few times. He’ll be scrambling most of the game, which isn’t his game anyway. Don’t expect much from the offense this week.

This game will be a blowout, and there’s no better way to put that. At least we still have a bowl game to look forward to.

Tim Reams (season record 5-2): Penn State 34, Michigan State 28

I’ve made some bold predictions this season, and that streak won’t end. Penn State simply can’t finish a game against ranked opponents. They come out and fly around and play a physical brand of football for four quarters, but simply Penn State cannot put a winning game together against formidable opponents. Whether you pin that on depth, youth, coaching, or mental mistakes, it doesn’t come together for whatever reason (Donovan, cough, cough, Donovan).

Penn State is heading out to take on a top 10 Sparty team without Connor Cook, and the game will be a showdown in East Lansing. Michigan State will play its hard-nosed brand of football, and they will force Penn State to make plays for four quarters in order to remain in the game.

I’ve predicted upsets two games in a row, and been wrong twice in a row. Let’s hope Penn State can put together a game and take down a top ten team in an upset that we have all felt has been brewing for some time. Call me bold, foolish, or whatever you will, but I truly believe if all things fall into place, Penn State can pull off the upset.

Kaitlyn Dividock (season record 8-2): Michigan State 28, Penn State 17

Penn State has absolutely nothing to lose as they travel to East Lansing. The pressure is on the Spartans however, because they’re playing for a well-deserved slot in the Big Ten championship and ultimately a spot in the College Football Playoff. Needless to say, this is quietly turning out to be a huge game, who’d have thought?

Here’s the thing, Sparty has a track record of giving its fans chronic heart attacks with its heavy diet of last-minute wins. Yeah, those games are an exciting spectacle to watch, but I bet the coaching staff feels a little anxious as the clock ticks away the final seconds of the game while their special teams trots onto the field. That being said, I don’t think Michigan State will deal with that same type of fourth quarter this Saturday.

Mark Dantonio has a knack for gambling late and going out of his way to win games. And most of the time, he’s been wildly successful (read: Ohio State and Michigan.) This tenacious mindset (and trust in his team) is something the Nittany Lions’ staff seems to lack. That, my friends, is why Michigan State will win. Penn State has ​_loads_​ of talent, but it also has a coaching staff that botches every opportunity to highlight it, and I think that’s the saddest trait this team carries. James Franklin will play it safe for god knows what reason, and John Donovan will be his ever-charming self. Let’s all just thank our lucky stars we’re already bowl-eligible, because this one is for the books. Sparty on.

Cade Reed (season record: 4-3): Penn State 31, Michigan State 14

To mirror my prediction from last week, I’ll start by saying that this week’s game is an important one. Penn State still has a lot to fight for this season: a respectable eight-win season, a strong bowl bid, and a strong sendoff for the seniors and potentially Christian Hackenberg. This Penn State team is deceptively strong, with its greatest strength being the team’s inability to finish off drives in the red zone. With any luck (and some rejuvenated play calling) Penn State will finish more drives with touchdowns than field goals and be able to put Sparty away in East Lansing.

David Abruzzese: Michigan State 31, Penn State 21

Talent-wise, Penn State and Michigan State stack up fairly evenly thanks to a litany of injuries that crippled the Spartans’ defense. Standout safety R.J. Williamson’s status is up in the air as he recovers from a torn bicep suffered earlier in the season, and playmakers Ed Davis and Vayante Copeland are lost for the season. Hell, Connor Cook might not even be available, but if last weekend’s stunner in Columbus was any indication, none of it matters.

Christian Hackenberg might be playing his final regular season game as a Nittany Lion, and with only three interceptions to his credit in 2015, he’s affirmed his prowess when given a clean pocket. He should have the game of his life, but with the coaching staff’s recent array of mind-boggling playcalling decisions, he likely won’t. Saquon Barkley needs only 96 yards to reach 1,000 yards on the season, but the pressure will likely be on him to make something out of nothing in terms of finding running room downfield. Star safety Montae Nicholson will be lurking in the secondary, and should give Bob Shoop trouble when it comes to game planning.

Michigan State is strong, but is certainly beatable. A well-coached Penn State team would give it a good fight, and could end up winning off a late score in the fourth quarter. But not this Penn State team, and that’s really a shame. This coaching staff is wasting prime talent — talent it won’t be getting back. Christian Hackenberg will likely declare for the NFL Draft after the team’s bowl game, and fans better pray John Donovan doesn’t find a way to tarnish Barkley’s career like he did with Hackenberg’s.

Maybe I’m wrong, and maybe the Lions can play spoiler. I’m usually optimistic when it comes to Penn State football, but it’s tough to see this team playing a complete game for four quarters.

What’s your prediction? Let us know in the comments below.

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