The Back-And-Forth Rivalry Between Penn State Football & Michigan
Penn State and Michigan are two of the most storied programs in college football history. The two teams will face off for the 27th time this Saturday. Although this game proves to be entertaining every season, it hasn’t always been that way.
As well-recognized as this matchup has become, the two schools had over 100 seasons under their belts before they crossed paths. Penn State and Michigan didn’t face off until 1993 when the Nittany Lions joined the Big Ten conference for the near-annual matchup to transform into what it’s known for today.
This Saturday will be the 15th meeting with both teams ranked and the fourth where they fall within the top 10. Michigan leads the all-time series 16-10, although it has been neck and neck as of late.
With Michigan currently on a two-game win streak over the Nittany Lions, the series is tied 2-2 in the last four meetings, 3-3 in the last six, and 6-6 in the last 12.
In that first matchup back in 1993, the upsets and knack for spoiling each other’s seasons began. The No. 18 Wolverines traveled to Beaver Stadium and defeated the No. 7-ranked Nittany Lions 21-13.
The second meeting featured two undefeated squads, No. 3 Penn State and No. 5 Michigan. The Joe Paterno-led Nittany Lions got off to a hot start and a 16-0 lead in the Big House at the half. Just five minutes into the second half, the Wolverines stormed back and scored 17 unanswered points to take the lead.
Quarterback Kerry Collins answered right back with a nine-yard touchdown pass, and the Nittany Lions converted a two-point conversion to retake a 24-17 lead. Michigan running back Tim Biakabutuka answered again with a one-yard touchdown run to even the game at 24.
With under two minutes to go in the game, Collins and running back Ki-Jana Carter marched down the field before a 16-yard touchdown pass from Collins ultimately sealed the game. The Nittany Lions finished this season undefeated, with a Rose Bowl victory, but weren’t granted a spot in the BCS National Championship game.
From 1995 to 1999, the two teams met yearly as ranked opponents. In 1995, the lower-ranked No. 19 Penn State defeated No. 12 Michigan in Beaver Stadium by a score of 27-17. Penn State won its third consecutive game in the series the following season, as the No. 11 team in the country beat the No. 16 Michigan Wolverines 29-17. The hot streak for the Nittany Lions came to a screeching halt the year after.
Michigan began its nine-game win streak, the longest in the series, in the next season when the fifth-ranked Wolverines demolished the No. 2 team by a final score of 34-8. Michigan was the lower-ranked team in each matchup from 1997 to 1999. In all three games, the Wolverines successfully knocked off a top-10 Penn State team, including a 27-0 beatdown featuring former Michigan quarterback Tom Brady.
The success in the series began in the early 2000s, and six more victories made the overall series lean heavily in favor of Michigan at 10-3. Among these games were two big upsets where unranked Michigan defeated No. 8 and No. 10 Penn State in 2005 and 2007, respectively.
The Nittany Lions aimed to regain some confidence against its conference foe, and they did just that. Penn State strung together its largest win streak in the series with four straight wins over the Wolverines. The most notable win came in 2013. During difficult times for the Penn State community, the Nittany Lions began the season 3-2. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg led the Nittany Lions to a four-overtime 43-40 victory over unbeaten No. 18 Michigan.
The Wolverines got back on track and beat the Nittany Lions in the next three meetings. The next win for Penn State didn’t come until Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley led Penn State to a 42-13 slaughter of No. 19 Michigan in 2017. The teams split the next two matchups, meeting as ranked opponents in both, with the higher-ranked squad emerging victorious in each.
In 2019, the Nittany Lions’ 28-21 victory over the Wolverines became known as the “Mo Bamba Game,” as the White Out crowd inside Beaver Stadium screamed the lyrics to Sheck Wes’ notorious song, causing Michigan to burn a timeout on the first play. The Nittany Lions would go on to fall to a 0-5 start before facing the 2-3 Wolverines in 2020. Penn State traveled to Ann Arbor in front of no crowd and won its first game of the season 27-17.
Since then, Michigan has had its way with Penn State, winning two straight contests. This Saturday, the Wolverines are favored to win their third straight.
Meeting each other as ranked teams has become expected over the years, and that will happen yet again on Saturday. Undefeated No. 3 Michigan will travel to State College to face No. 10 Penn State, who has the chance to spoil Michigan’s season just as Michigan has done to it in the past.
Coverage will begin at noon on Saturday, November 11, on FOX.
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About the Author
The second-highest attended game in Beaver Stadium history was a rollercoaster of emotions.
In search of his sixth offensive coordinator in less than 10 seasons, James Franklin likely needs to poach a splash hire to revamp his attack’s identity to revitalize his perception in Happy Valley.
Beaver Stadium was a tough place to be Saturday when Penn State football fell 24-15 to Michigan, and history so gracefully repeated itself.