Following a 2016 campaign which resulted in a Big Ten Championship and Rose Bowl classic, the last season and a half have left Penn State fans largely unsatisfied. Head coach James Franklin has yet to defeat Michigan State, Ohio State, or Michigan on the road.
Saturday’s matchup against No. 5 Michigan in the Big House is a chance for James Franklin to right some of his wrongs that plagued the last two seasons. While it is apparent there are personnel flaws on both sides of the ball that are holding back this Penn State team, the Nittany Lions could have and should have defeated both Ohio State and Michigan State each of past two years.
These close losses are causing many to question the game management of Franklin in crucial points of the game. Last week’s win against Iowa was a quality victory where Franklin’s end-of-game defense finally buckled down, unlike what Penn State fans have been used to seeing.
However, if Franklin is able to take down a Michigan team that has been steadily improving as the season goes on, it would quiet many doubters.
Penn State is heading into Ann Arbor to face as a 10-point underdog, yet hasn’t lost a game by more than four points since it was annihilated 49-10 against Michigan in Week 4 of the 2016 season.
The Nittany Lions find themselves with the opportunity to play spoiler, a position they haven’t been in after their recent emergence to national relevancy in 2016. Not only does Penn State have the chance to spoil Michigan’s College Football Playoff chances, but it also effectively eliminates the Big Ten from playoff contention as well.
If Penn State beats Michigan, it is highly unlikely the Wolverines would be able to climb back into the College Football Playoff picture with how crowded it is at the top.
Now, you might think this opens the door for Ohio State, right?
However, if Ohio State manages to beat Michigan like they have done often in recent memory, that victory becomes much weaker if Michigan goes into Columbus as a two-loss team.
Michigan is out for revenge and playing with purpose. Penn State embarrassed its highly regarded defense last year and Michigan can put on a show on a national stage, similar to how Penn State felt last year going into Michigan week.
If Franklin can somehow take down this Michigan team, he’ll be able to silence the critics of his big-game performances. This will be especially true considering Penn State won’t be able to lean on its home field advantage to get the job done.
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