Staff Predictions: No. 11 Penn State vs. No. 3 Michigan
Buckle up, folks. It all comes down to this.
Saturday’s matchup at Beaver Stadium will decide the fate of Penn State football’s 2023 season, as it needs to defeat No. 3 Michigan in order to preserve its hopes for a Big Ten Championship and a first-ever trip to the College Football Playoff. This is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, games in James Franklin’s tenure so far, as a win could be program-changing.
The undefeated Wolverines are slim favorites heading into the game, and they boast a talented roster featuring quarterback JJ McCarthy, running back Blake Corum, and wide receiver Roman Wilson. With a difficult opponent on the horizon, our staffers are mixed on which team wins in the Stripe Out.
Rico Gore (9-0): Penn State 17, Michigan 14
It’s now or never. This is a legacy game. Either James Franklin is going to make the leap or Penn State is always going to be a 10-2 team. This game is going to be the battle of defensive powerhouses, as these two teams are arguably the top two defensive teams in the country.
Each team’s offense will need to be at the top of their game because this is a game of defense. Nonetheless, I honestly believe Penn State is able to pull out the win at home in Beaver Stadium.
Matt Brown (8-1): Penn State 31, Michigan 28
Well, this is it. The most important game of the season for Penn State. The chance for a national championship comes down to if the Nittany Lions can upset the undefeated Michigan Wolverines. Two weeks ago, after the loss to Ohio State, I would have told you there’s zero chance in the world Penn State wins this game. But after watching the beatdown of the Terrapins last weekend, I’m here to say that I’m back on the “we’re beating Michigan train.”
This game will come down to a couple of things for Penn State: can they stop Michigan from dominating the run, and can they continue to score the whole game against a great Wolverine defense? I think this game will be tight and come down to the final drive as Drew Allar silences the doubters and knocks off the No. 3 ranked team in the nation.
Brendan Wagner (8-0): Penn State 24, Michigan 20
This is going to be a nail-biter all the way through. Beaver Stadium will give the Lions an edge.
Aidan Conrad (7-1): Penn State 34, Michigan 30
Call it “Bedlam at Beaver,” “Heroics in Happy Valley,” or even the “Spectacle in State College.” This game will be a turning point in the program’s history and will make fans begin to believe. I expect a neck-and-neck game through four quarters and a fourth down stop from the Penn State defense to seal the win.
Mitchell Corcoran (5-1): Penn State 23, Michigan 20
Maybe the biggest concern for Penn State fans coming into the season was how the run defense would improve after allowing 418 rushing yards against Michigan last season. Well, the good news is Penn State has the second-best run defense in the country, allowing 60.6 yards per game.
Last season, the Wolverines averaged 238.9 rushing yards per game. This season, Penn State averages more rushing yards per game than Michigan with 173.2 yards per game compared to Michigan’s 167.1 yards per game. This is a significant drop-off compared to the 2022 Michigan team, even though this year’s team’s strength of schedule is ranked 111th out of 133.
I think Penn State is more battle-tested and is in a great spot to pull off the upset on Saturday. I would not be surprised to see Penn State jump to an early 10-0 or 14-0 start as well. Some keys to the game include protecting Drew Allar, limiting Michigan’s ground game, and making JJ McCarthy uncomfortable in the pocket. McCarthy is Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded passer, so forcing errant throws and applying pressure is crucial for the Nittany Lions’ defense.
Brady Miller (7-1): Michigan 27, Penn State 23
I really hope I’m wrong here. Penn State is playing Michigan at the best possible time. Drew Allar is coming off what looked like his best game of the season, and the Penn State defense is still looking dominant. Also, Michigan has not played a single ranked opponent this season, so it’s hard to say how it will handle the pressure in Happy Valley this weekend.
With that being said, until James Franklin proves he can win a big game, I can’t pick the Nittany Lions here. I expect it to be a super close game with the Nittany Lions falling apart late, handing Michigan its third straight dub in the series and ending Penn State’s playoff hopes.
CJ Gill (6-0): Penn State 28, Michigan 23
I have convinced myself that it’s going to happen. Michigan has gone untested through its first nine games of the year. On the other hand, I think Penn State has responded well since its disappointing loss to Ohio State. The offense especially has looked much better, and I think the combination of Manny Diaz’s defense and a new and improved offensive attack can get the job done Saturday.
I picked Ohio State to win earlier in the year because I did not like how the Nittany Lions had been playing on the road. However, I am confident that on Saturday inside Beaver Stadium, Penn State holds a huge advantage. The crowd is always amped up when the Wolverines are in town and with everything else surrounding Michigan’s program right now, the energy will only be increased. James Franklin and the boys rise to the occasion this time.
Jamie Lynch (5-1): Penn State 25, Michigan 23
Why am I picking the Nittany Lions to pull off the upset? Two reasons: Drew Allar is unlocked, and Penn State’s fanbase is simply unparalleled.
When the Nittany Lions traveled to Columbus earlier in the season, the offense was certainly cause for concern. Mike Yurcich’s squad just couldn’t find a way to move the ball downfield or convert on third down. The days following the loss to the Buckeyes were dark for many Penn Staters, as it seemed like their team would have no shot against the Wolverines come November. Yet three weeks (and one very important Maryland game) later, Drew Allar and Co. have seemingly found their spark. If Penn State wants to beat Michigan, Allar needs to keep finding his wideouts downfield, including Dante Cephas who had a breakout game in College Park last weekend. Creativity in the offensive game plan is also key. Look for the Drew Allar—Beau Pribula package to be put into action once again on Saturday.
This is one of the most anticipated matchups that Penn State has ever played in Beaver Stadium. Two top-10 teams will battle it out with their hopes of winning the Big Ten East still at large. Not to mention that the sign-stealing scandal that has taken Michigan — and the college football world — by storm will undoubtedly be a major storyline for this weekend’s game. Even at noon, Beaver Stadium will rock like never before. There could be magic in the Happy Valley air this weekend.
Sophia Monteforte (2-1): Penn State 27, Michigan 24
I predict that Penn State will win 27-24 with a lot of back-and-forth scoring as two strong defensive and offensive lines go head to head. Also, I think the start of Penn State’s momentum will be at the first kickoff rather than after the first half.
Fernando Martinez (5-1): Michigan 31, Penn State 17
I’m sorry, but I’ve seen this movie before, and I’m not falling for it again.
I understand that the Nittany Lions looked incredible last week against Maryland and finally put it all together on both offense and defense. However, I still don’t trust James Franklin and this Penn State team in big games like this one. Since becoming the head coach of Penn State, James Franklin has a 3-16 record against top-10 teams.
Penn State had the opportunity to write off this narrative against Ohio State two weeks ago and looked horrendous, especially on offense. As for Michigan, this team is going through a lot of controversy this week with the sign-stealing scandal with suspensions looming, and it might affect it mentally in preparation for this game. Despite that, I think Michigan is mentally tough and is eager to prove to the nation that it is a contender for the national championship as it looks for its first ranked win of the season.
This team has a lot of playmakers on both sides of the ball, and I think it will be too much for the Nittany Lions to keep up with despite having the home-field advantage. Sadly, I think Michigan wins this game and ends any hope for the Nittany Lions to make the College Football Playoff, but I really hope that I am wrong.
Michael Siroty (3-0): Michigan 28, Penn State 27
This game is set to be a classic, as Penn State is looking for a signature win for the program. It’ll take a lot to beat a Michigan team that looks to be one of the most complete in the nation. However, it’s tough to tell what the Wolverines are really about having not played a ranked opponent yet.
Like most other people are, I’m expecting a very close game. The reason I’m picking Michigan to win is the Penn State receivers that have been a hot topic all season. The Wolverines have one of the best defensive back groups in America, and I believe they’ll lock down the Nittany Lions’ air attack. Despite that, I wouldn’t be surprised if my one-point Michigan win prediction goes the other way.
Cooper Cazares (5-1): Penn State 24, Michigan 20
This is it. This is what it all comes down to. The Nittany Lions’ season rides solely on this game on Saturday.
Michigan is extremely talented on offense with a Heisman-level quarterback in JJ McCarthy, a projected first-round pick at running back with Blake Corum and receiving threat Roman Wilson. However, Penn State’s defense is the best in the country. The Nittany Lions will shut down the run and make McCarthy beat them using his arm. If the Wolverines are limited in the run game, McCarthy will throw at least one interception to an amazing Penn State secondary.
Drew Allar looked different in the game at Maryland last week. He seemed looser and more comfortable. It was his best performance on the road this year and surely a confidence boost going into the biggest game of his young career. I expect a big game from him this week.
Nolan Wick (8-1): Michigan 24, Penn State 20
Even with everything on the line at Beaver Stadium, I don’t think Penn State will win this game. There’s a small path to victory, but I’m convinced Michigan is the better team despite its weak schedule.
Penn State’s defense has a slight upper hand, but Michigan’s offense significantly overmatches Penn State’s. It’s going to be close, and a couple of massive, momentum-shifting plays will decide this one.
While I’m not ruling out Penn State winning, I couldn’t ignore Franklin’s record against top-10 teams while writing this. There have been signs from the Nittany Lions that indicate they certainly could win, but I haven’t seen enough to justify predicting that.
Joe Lister (8-1): Michigan 22, Penn State 16
You won’t hurt me this time, James Franklin.
CJ Doebler (8-1): Penn State 20, Michigan 17
This is going to be a real defensive battle. Michigan and Penn State have two of the best defenses in the country, but Michigan has yet to face a real test, let alone been subjected to anything close to the atmosphere Beaver Stadium will have on Saturday.
Chop Robinson was practicing during the viewing session on Wednesday, and his return would be huge for the defensive line. The offense, on the other hand, is coming off one of its best performances of the season and morale is high. The wide receiver corps looked good against Maryland, and Dante Cephas should be called on to play a part again on Saturday. I think this one is going to go down to the wire, and Alex Felkins’ foot could be the difference-maker.
Keeley Lamm (8-1): Penn State 21, Michigan 17
I’ll never bet against the Nittany Lions.
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