The now two longest-tenured coaches in the Big Ten East will face off for the sixth time when James Franklin and Penn State heads to The Big House to take on Jim Harbaugh and Michigan. Both these teams should be ranked in the preseason polls, but neither is considered a favorite to win the Big Ten, as that is overwhelmingly Ohio State.
Also don’t forget Franklin has yet to win in Ann Arbor in three tries.
When and where
Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI
Penn State +117
Why the line is what it is
Though the 0-5 against Ohio State is far more concerning to #GoBlue, Jim Harbaugh is 3-2 against Penn State so far, and is 2-0 at home. It’s hard to remember under the constant criticism, but the Wolverines are 47-18 under Harbaugh. And last year they finished 10th in SP+ and 11th in defensive efficiency. All four losses came to Top 11 teams.
Yes there’s a quarterback battle with Dylan McCaffrey and Joe Milton, but they’re loaded at running back, and Nico Collins and Ronnie Bell should be playmakers at wide receiver. This should be a very good Wolverines team.
Penn State won a New Year’s Six bowl game in the Cotton Bowl against Memphis last year, and return junior quarterback Sean Clifford who now has a full season of college football as a starter under his belt. He threw for 2,654 yards and 23 touchdowns, but PSU will want him to expand on those numbers this season. But new offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca will have plenty of options for his run-heavy system with backs like Journey Brown, Noah Cain, and Devyn Ford.
But due to the eternal Michigan-OSU rivalry, some people forgot Penn State had the 13th best offense and 10th best defense by SP+ in college football last season. Their only two losses were to upstart Minnesota, and the Buckeyes emerging B1G dynasty in Columbus. This is a very good football team as well.
Why it might change
The lack of spring practice for sure hurts Penn State more as they adjust to Ciarrocca’s system. If they get out of the box slowly, it might be as much due to lack of time to get comfortable as anything. And with the scheduling restraints in college football, learning on the fly in-season can be tough. Especially with what might be an even shorter window for fall camp due to coronavirus as well.
Where the value is now
These are two teams that are very good by the numbers, but maybe don’t get the respect they deserve because of the machine that is OSU this decade is blocking their title access. The Bucks haven’t lost a game in the Big Ten East since 2016, and these two teams are the victims of that success.
But otherwise this appears to be a very even matchup, with possibly a slight lean towards Michigan at home as long as you’re giving less than a field goal.
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