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Penn State-Michigan series: Ranking All 10 of Penn State’s Wins over the Wolverines

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh

Michigan and Penn State’s meeting will be the 25th matchup between the two teams since Penn State joined the Big Ten in 1993. The Wolverines have had a slight edge overall, winning 14 of the 24 matchups, highlighted by nine wins in a row over the Nittany Lions between 1997 and 2007. Penn State has won an even 10 games in the series, and this list ranks those 10 wins from least memorable to most. 

No. 10: 2020

Penn State 27, Michigan 17

It was James Franklin’s first and, thus far, only win in the Big House, but the Big House was empty. Both teams had bad years; Penn State finished 4-5 and Michigan 2-4, and the 2020 season was such a mess that nothing felt the same. 

No. 9: 2009

No. 11 Penn State 35, Michigan 10

After breaking that nine-game losing streak to the Wolverines the previous year, the Nittany Lions made it two in a row. While it was one of only three wins in the Big House, Penn State was clearly the better team, and the game featured little of the drama that many other Penn State-Michigan games have. 

No. 8: 2008

No. 3 Penn State 46, Michigan 17

Like the game previously mentioned, the 2008 Nittany Lions were better than Michigan. This game meant more, however, because it was the first time the Nittany Lions had won in the series since the turn of the century. 

The game featured some adversity, with Michigan going up 17-7, but Penn State scored the next 39 points to turn the game into a rout. 

No. 7: 1996

No. 11 Penn State 29, No. 16 Michigan 17

Of the four-times Penn State has won in Ann Arbor, this was the second and most recent time it beat a ranked Michigan team.

Led by five-second half turnovers from the defense and two interceptions by safety Kim Herring, Penn State beat Michigan to improve to 9-2.

It was a big day for Penn State, but because the matchup lacked the intensity of other Michigan games, it sits in the second half of this list. 

No. 6: 2010

Penn State 41, Michigan 31

Also could be known as the “Matt McGloin game.”

The redhead from Scranton made his first career start on Halloween Night. The Nittany Lions had leads of 31-10 and 38-17 in the third quarter, but behind a touchdown pass and two touchdown runs from quarterback Denard Robinson, Michigan clawed back to trail just 38-31 with 9:25 left. 

But Penn State held on for a 41-31 win. The game is also remembered for Evan Royster becoming Penn State’s all-time leading rusher and for McGolin calling out ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit in a post-game interview after Herbstreit made what some perceived as dismissive comments about McGloin on College Gameday earlier that morning. 

Ultimately, this is only No. 6 because it was in the middle of a 7-6 season for Penn State and, therefore, didn’t lead to much. 

No. 5: 2017

No. 2 Penn State 42, No. 19 Michigan 13

College Gameday was in Happy Valley, it was a Whiteout and when Saquon Barkley took the second play from scrimmage for a 69-yard touchdown, everybody knew how the game was going to go. 

The night was another happy reminder that the program had turned a corner under Franklin and also for Michigan’s Lavert Hill flipping off the crowd. 

No. 4: 2019

No. 7 Penn State 28, No. 16 Michigan 21

Just like the 2017 meeting, the most recent Penn State-Michigan game in Happy Valley was a Whiteout and College Gameday’s featured game. Unlike 2017, however, the game wasn’t a runaway. 

Penn State jumped out to a 21-0 lead, but Michigan scored 21 of the following 28 points. Down 28-21, Michigan had a fourth-and-goal at the Penn State three with a little more than two minutes left, but Ronnie Bell dropped a pass in the end zone, and Penn State took over on downs and sealed the game soon after.

No. 3: 1995

No. 19 Penn State 27, No. 12 Michigan 17

On a cold November day, fans threw snowballs while the Nittany Lions and Wolverines battled for the third time.

Eighteen inches of snow crushed Happy Valley three days before the game, and Penn State’s athletic department paid a snow removal crew that included 188 prisoners.

This game is remembered for two things; the snow and Joe Nastasi running in a fake field goal to put the game on ice with 2:40 left. More than a quarter-century later, it’s still one of the more memorable Penn State-Michigan meetings. 

No. 2: 2013

Penn State 43, No. 18 Michigan 40, 4 OT

How exciting was this matchup? Allen Robinson has a tattoo to commemorate it. 

Down 34-27 with 27 seconds left, quarterback Christian Hackenburg launched a heave to Robinson, who lept like a ballet dancer to come down with the ball at Michigan’s one-yard line. Penn State tied it one play later and sent the game to overtime. 

Four overtime’s later, Penn State won it on a 2-yard Bill Belton touchdown. 

No. 1: 1994

No. 3 Penn State 31, No. 5 Michigan 24

Penn State had only been in the Big 10 for less than two seasons, so the series was still a novelty. Both teams were ranked in the top five, which hasn’t happened since. 

 Penn State got out to a 16-0 lead, then Michigan scored 17 unanswered behind a pair of touchdown runs from Tyrone Wheatley. The teams then exchanged scores to tie the game at 24. 

With less than three minutes left, Kerry Collis hit Bobby Engram to put the Nittany Lions ahead, 31-24. The moment was so significant in Penn State’s history that, according to Joe Posnanski’s biography Paterno, it was one of several past Penn State plays that Jay Paterno drew up as his father Joe lay dying. 

Brian Miller picked off Michigan quarterback Todd Collins to seal the win. Penn State didn’t lose in 1994, and many still feel that team deserved a chance to play for a national championship. It was Penn State’s first win over Michigan, and to this date, still the most memorable. 

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