Brady Hoke remembers what happened the last time he took his Michigan Wolverines on the road. Favored by 18.5 on the NCAAF odds at UConn three Saturdays ago, the Maize & Blue trailed by 14 with about 20 minutes ago before a strong rally helped them escape with a 24-21 dubya.
The Wolverines rebounded from that contest with an easy win over Minnesota at home last week, but Hoke knows how extremely lucky his squad is to still be unbeaten at this point heading into Michigan's trip to take on the Penn State Nittany Lions.
Beaver Stadium in State College, PA is the site for Saturday's 5 PM (ET) boot that ESPN will air. Penn State, coming off an embarrassing loss at Indiana, is looking to extend its win streak vs. Michigan to four, and the Nittany Lions will be doing so as home 'dogs with the spread in the -1.5 to -3 point range on the Wolverines for our college football picks. SBR's live college football odds show a 51 point total after it was initially sent out at 49-50.
I'll leave it up to you to figure out what the all-time series record is officially according to the joke that goes by the name En-Cee-2A. As for what has actually transpired on the gridiron since the Nittany Lions joined the Big Ten in 1993, Michigan has a 10-6 advantage. The Wolverines had won nine straight in the series before PSU cruised to wins in the last three, including a 41-31 decision nearly three years ago in the most recent get-together.
Four of the last six in the Keystone State have gone through the scoreboard barrier, and OVER backers have been cashing on Penn State the past 11 months, 10 of the last 13 overall and 6-1 to the high side at Beaver Stadium in that stretch.
Will Michigan Offense Play Mistake-Free Ball?
Turnovers have been a big problem for the Wolverines, or at least they were before last week's 42-13 victory vs. the Golden Gophers. It was the first time this season the Michigan offense didn't turn the ball over after coughing it up 12 times in the first four contests. Eight of those giveaways can be found under the INT column of QB Devin Gardner's stats ledger.
The junior out of Motown enjoyed his best game throwing against Minnesota, completing 13 of 17 for 235 yards. Jeremy Gallon and Devin Funchess give Gardner a pair of deep threats, but the Wolverines will also need to get their ground game going behind Fitzgerald Toussaint, and that facet of the offense has been middling at best in 2013.
That won't be easy for Michigan against a Penn State defense that ranks 19th overall against the run, and 18th in total defense. The O-line is going to have to give #98 plenty of time to throw in order to open up at least a bit of a running attack.
Penn State Needs Defense To Keep Game Close
The Nittany Lions are averaging almost 280 yards per game through the air, but a lot of that came in a rout of Eastern Michigan and the two losses to Central Florida and Indiana a week ago when they fell behind big and were forced to the air. Freshman QB Christian Hackenberg managed to throw three TDs without a pick, setting a career-best with 340 aerial yards in the loss to the Hoosiers.
Indiana, which had been a sieve on run defense through its first four games, was also able to stop the Penn State running game, and that doesn't bode well against a Wolverines stop unit that ranks ninth nationally against the rush. Zach Zwinak and Bill Belton will have to grind it out behind an offensive line that simply has to afford Hackenberg time to find his receivers. Count on Michigan to double junior wideout Allen Robinson, which means Hackenberg will need to hit receivers under the coverage to keep drives going.
Bill O'Brien is going to need a near-perfect game from his PSU offense to put up enough points to get the outright upset, and his defense has to keep Gardner and the Wolverines from big plays. And I don't think the Nittany Lions are up to the task. Still, I'm going to count on turnovers and big plays to help my free pick on the OVER. Michigan wins, 28-25.
My pick: Michigan-Penn State Over 51