- Mike Prince, Sportswriter
The last time Penn State beat Michigan, Bill Clinton was still in office, Philadelphia had only gone 13 years without a championship, Seinfeld was the most popular show on television, and the Florida Gators' starting quarterback was the nation’s Heisman winner.
That was back in 1996. Now the year is 2008, and well, things are pretty much the same.
Philadelphia has still not won a championship in 25 years (that might change in two weeks, but not before the Wolverines visit Beaver Stadium), the Florida Gators still have the Heisman winner taking snaps behind center, and while Seinfeld may not be running new episodes anymore, the show’s creator still has a hilarious fan favorite airing on HBO.
Speaking of Curb Your Enthusiasm, things are looking “pretty, pretty, pretty good” for the Penn State Nittany Lions for this Saturday’s matchup with the unranked Michigan Wolverines.
The small Pennsylvania city called “Happy Valley” is happier than it’s been since mid-October three years ago, when Penn State was still undefeated going into the Big House in Michigan. The Lions were 6-0, ranked eighth overall in the nation and in the center of the college football world.
That all changed with one second, one last play, one more loss, and one more year added to a losing streak that die-hard Penn State fans would take personally.
Now, three years later, revenge is on the table. All of Penn State’s demons that are Michigan can be left out on the field, wiping the slate clean for the blue and white and leading them one step closer to their first national championship berth in 22 years.
This Saturday, the 2-4 Michigan Wolverines face off with a Penn State team that is 7-0 for the first time in eight years, hungry for a national championship berth and looking to erase the memories of nine losses in 12 years to a team they feel they should have and could have beaten in any of the last three meetings.
Good thing for the Lions—these two teams could not possibly be on more opposite ends of the spectrum. Penn State is coming off their biggest win of the season, a 48-7 destruction of Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium—a place where Penn State had scored a combined six points in their previous two visits.
On the other hand, the Wolverines are coming off of a 13-10 home loss to heavy underdog Toledo, a loss that gave Michigan their worst start in 41 years.
There are two reasons, if not a hundred more, to say that Penn State will not only beat Michigan this weekend, but also beat them convincingly, leaving no doubt that Joe Paterno and his team are taking this game personally.
The first reason is simple and obvious: emotions.
Emotions will be running so high this Saturday at Beaver Stadium that a spectator who did not know these teams' history would not think that Penn State would be going into this game as a 23-point favorite.
Whether a redshirt freshman, a fourth-year starter, or a man in his 43rd year as head coach, every single member of this Nittany Lions team is so anxious for payback to a team that has given so much misery to its program that this game is not just about football anymore—it has become personal.
The Lions will be playing this game not just for themselves, but also for every Penn State team that has lost to Michigan since 1996. They will be playing this game for all the fans who have endured the losses but still show up to the stadium every Saturday afternoon.
They will be playing this for Joseph Vincent Paterno, a man that has taught them that “success with honor” is more than just a saying: It’s the only way to step out on the field every week.
The second reason is a little more obvious to any regular football fan: talent.
This Nittany Lion team has as much if not more talent than the ’05 team. Daryll Clark and Derrick Williams are all grown up and have taken the Big Ten by storm. The offensive line is opening holes and dominating defenses week in and week out, while the defense is doing its part (even with their best player in Sean Lee out for the season).
On the other side of the ball, you have inexperience. Nothing against this Michigan Wolverine team, but they are in a rebuilding stage. With a new coach in Rich Rodriguez, a freshman quarterback in Steven Threet, and a young nucleus, the team has the potential but not the experience to compete with the best.
After disappointing losses to Utah, Notre Dame, Illinois, and Toledo, including three of those at the “Big House,” the Wolverines should only be looking to improving their future.
This Michigan team has surrendered 25 or more points in four of six games this season and will face a Penn State team that has only scored fewer than 38 points one time this season in their seven games. The Penn State running attack and the pocket presence of Clark should be enough to take care of the young Michigan defense.
While the Lions have had trouble covering the option in the past, Threet should struggle reading the Penn State defense while he is still trying to learn the offense.
With 110,000-plus fans on their side and emotions running high, Penn State should have no trouble handling the Wolverines this Saturday in State College and will take care of business from the opening kickoff. Look for Penn State to win this game going away by at least three touchdowns.
Prediction: Penn State 42, Michigan 13