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Penn State Football

NSN Staff Predictions: Can Penn State Beat Michigan in Season’s Biggest Game?

Drew Allar warms up against Delaware.

Penn State and Michigan are meeting for the most-hyped college football game of 2023.

Here’s what our staff thinks will happen.


Brandon Walker: 
I originally picked Penn State to defeat Michigan at the beginning of the season. I have since pivoted on that prediction. I don’t think it matters whether or not Jim Harbaugh will be on the sidelines. James Franklin has to prove to me that he can win games of this magnitude. The game will be much closer than last season, but I think Michigan will survive.

Michigan 27, Penn State 23

Logan Carney: This is a tough one to predict. I came into this week, and this season really, chalking the Michigan and Ohio State games as sure losses. Then the scandal hit, and now Harbaugh can’t even be on the sidelines against Penn State without a court order.

It’s a crazy turn of events. Is Penn State extra motivated by the cheating? Is Drew Allar motivated to shut up critics who spoke about his horrible Ohio State performance? Are Michigan and Harbaugh under too much stress and distractions right now? Will Harbaugh even be there?

There’s so much to consider. I still think Michigan has far and away proven its to be the much better team this year. The criticisms of their schedule are fair: it’s downright pathetic. But Penn State has only been truly tested once in their schedule and they lost that Ohio State game.

What separates the two in my mind is that Michigan has absolutely steamrolled all of its opponents. Only two teams, Minnesota (10) and Purdue (13) have scored double digit points against them. Their offense, has yet to be held below 30 points this season.

Opponents aside, it’s incredible what Michigan’s done, especially with the fact that they’ve had distractions all season. First it was Harbaugh’s three game suspension to start the year, and since then it’s been the sign stealing. The team hasn’t had a week without a distraction, yet it still blows everyone out.

And that’s why I’m sticking with my preseason prediction of this game. While I no longer think anyone is just straight wrong for expecting Penn State to win like I did when they played Ohio State, I feel like I have to stick with my guns here.

I do expect Penn State to hold Michigan to under 30 points for the first time all year and play a strong game offensively. Just not as good as Michigan.

Michigan 27, Penn State 24

Mike Asti: I know some are who previously expected Michigan to win this game are now moving to Penn State due to the scandal and Jim Harbaugh news, but I’m not. I actually think that may galvanize the Wolverines as much as anyone. A head coach can matter for in-game decisions etc, but a game still mostly comes down to the players and team vs. team. Michigan offers the best defense Penn State will face and a big test to their powerful run game. That’s the biggest issue for the Nittany Lions. I think it’ll be close, but that Michigan end up pulling this one, annoyingly so to most of the country.

Michigan 26, Penn State 20

Jarrod Prugar: This is a game that will have eyes on it from across the college football world. This is the game that Penn State NEEDS to win. Michigan is hungry and probably very, very pissed off. Harbaugh or not, James Franklin needs this win. This will be the biggest test for the Wolverines both on the field and off.

Penn State 24, Michigan 20

Ethan Ronan: All I have to say is, if not now, then when?

Penn State 27, Michigan 24

Joe Smeltzer: How relevant is Jim Harbaugh’s presence Saturday? Yes, Michigan’s better with him than without him. But both coordinators will still be there, as will the rest if the staff. Harbaugh coached Michigan all week during practice, and oh, yeah, his the players that make up the best team in the country will be there. I won’t he surprised if Penn a State wins, but there’s a reason Michigan’s only lost one Big Ten game since the COVID year.

Where my prediction differs is that, despite these being the top two total defenses in the country, I think both teams hit 30. You know those baseball games that have two ace starting pitchers but somehow end up 6-5? That’s what I’m expecting here. Michigan has the longest active streak in the country of scoring 30 or more points. Penn State had that up until three weeks ago. Michigan has a Heisman contender at QB in J.J. McCarthy, and both Penn State’s QB (Drew Allar) and RB (Kaytron Allen) are playing their best football of the year.

All evidence says that Michigan’s the better team, and even with all the distractions, I expect that to be the case today.

Michigan 38, Penn State 30

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