Game Preview: No. 7 Penn State Nittany Lions @ No. 24 Michigan State Spartans

By Nick Polak on November 3, 2017 at 10:11 am
Koa Farmer will lead the charge against the Spartans.
Adriana Lacy, Roar Lions Roar

After a soul-crushing loss in Columbus, Penn State is looking to get back to their winning ways in a last-ditch effort to build up their playoff resume any way they can. Standing in their way, are the upstart Spartans, who are bouncing back nicely from an extremely disappointing 2016 campaign. In a rivalry of epic proportions, there are plenty of storylines to follow.

  PENN STATE Michigan State
2017 Records 7-1 (T-2nd in Big Ten East) 6-2 (T-2nd in Big Ten East)
Head Coaches James Franklin (56-31 overall, 32-16 with Penn State) Mark Dantonio (114-61 overall, 96-44 with Michigan State
Kickoff 12:00 PM ET
Television Fox
Online Stream Fox Sports Go
Point Spread Penn State -9
THINGS TO READ Penn State's Paths to the Playoff | Viewer's Guide to Week 10

Letdowns as far as the eye can see

If you've ever listened to The Solid Verbal podcast, you've surely heard our friends Dan and Ty use the term "letdown" frequently when describing various college football games, particularly around this time of year. The premise is simple; teams coming down off the high of an emotional win or an emotional loss are often prone to playing less than their best the following week. This is especially true when the team coming off of that emotional game is on the road.

This is the angle that many national analysts will take when discussing this week's contest. Many will cite how hard Penn State fought against the Buckeyes, and how the last-second defeat will be for the team to shake off. But many will do so while simultaneously ignoring the fact that Michigan State will be dealing with what may have been just as tough of a loss.

Going into last week, the Spartans had an excellent shot at at least a 9-3 season, with the only losses coming to teams ranked inside the top-10. That's about as great of a bounce back as one could ask for. However, Northwestern had others plans, dispatching Sparty in triple overtime.

So with both teams having just been dealt major blows to their seasons, don't expect one side to hold any sort of emotional advantage.

There are still seats available on the "Actually, Michigan State is very average" train

For all of the success Michigan State has found in 2017, a lot of it may be a mirage. Their marquee win was a 14-10 victory over the rival Wolverines came with a massive assist from a monsoon that didn't begin until after they had claimed a lead. In their four Big Ten wins, they've yet to defeat anyone by more than eight points.

Don't get me wrong, this is a very solid football team. But it's okay to acknowledge that they are solidly average and have benefitted from some regression to the mean after the four one-possession games they lost in 2016.

That doesn't make them any less dangerous to Penn State, particularly as the home team, but it's worth noting that this isn't a typical two-loss team.

Speaking of monsoons...

By now you've surely heard that the weather isn't supposed to be great in East Lansing on Saturday. As of right now, it appears as if it won't start raining until aroundt 2:00 or so, meaning the first half of the game should be fairly dry.

If the rain does start to come down, however, it may not be a great situation for the Lions. I'm not of the opinion that Sparty is good enough to beat Penn State the way they beat Michigan in regards to the rain since Penn State is simply a much better team than the Wolverines, but it's notable anyway. Michigan State has played solid defense all year, and could put up a fight against anyone in conditions that favor their preferred gameplan of running the ball and playing defense.

Key Factors

I normally reserve this space to discuss the narratives surrounding the game each week, but there just isn't a lot here outside of "both teams are coming off of losses" and "the weather could be bad" so I guess we'll just talk about the key players involved in the g- JUST KIDDING. THE LAND GRANT TROPHY IS ON THE LINE.


Here's what Wikipedia has to say about the best trophy in college football.

The trophy, designed by former Michigan State coach George Perles, features pictures of Penn State's Old Main and Michigan State's Beaumont Tower, as well as figurines of The Spartan and Nittany Lion Shrine statues. The trophy is infamous for its unwieldiness and hodgepodge appearance.

As a man who once served as both head football coach and athletic director before it was cool (Hi, Barry Alvarez), it's only right that George Perles would create a trophy as makeshift as this. Just like his two years of trying to mash the two sets of responsibilities each job came with, he mashed together elements that represent each of these schools.

I will forever respect Perles' half-hearted attempt at putting the Nittany Lions shrine and the The Spartan at the same height. They're just close enough that you can tell he tried, but not close enough to make it seem like it was worth his time doing so.

Do what's right, guys.

I do, however, have a few suggestions on how it could be made even better. First, replace the trophy figure at the top. Why beat around the bush? This is a rivalry established because these are the two oldest land-grant schools in the country. Do what's right, and put a figurehead on top that does that reputation justice.

Secondly, there is an entire wall on the side of the trophy dedicated to commemorating the winner of each game. That kind of stuff is great for walls of high schools where you track who won the "Steve Williams Community Service Worker of the Year" award, but not this. It would only be right if all of those plaques were removed, and it was simply a plain wall on which the winner got to write the winning score and their name in sharpie. And the year after? The new winner writes over the past year's score. Could new colors of sharpie be introduced over time? Yeah! Could metallic-colored sharpies be used? Yeah! There are no rules here. Just chaos and beauty and glory and the Land Grant Trophy.

Build your own replica of the land grant trophy if...

  • The Lions offense doesn't take its foot off the throttle
  • The forecasted bad weather doesn't impact what the team is trying to do offensively
  • The defense keeps Michigan State's unexplosive and inefficient offense from doing much of anything
  • Penn State does everything it possibly can to put on a show for the playoff committee in their last regular season game of true substance 

Accept that the Outback bowl awaits if...

  • The offense continues to sputter through stretches of inability to execute
  • The defense looks tired after last week and allowes Lewerke to find open receivers
  • Penn State tries to attack downfield too often and allows the Michigan State secondary to wreck havoc
  • If Mark Dantonio walks off of the field holding our beautiful, beautiful trophy

Prediction in Gif Form

If you haven't figured it out by now, this Michigan State team doesn't scare me in the slightest. I think they're the second-most overrated team in the country after Miami, and I see them losing to both Penn State and Ohio State over the next two weeks, and maybe even to Maryland after that.

They have what looks to be a very good defense, but their offense is...the opposite of that. Brian Lewerke has played well recently, but he's not nearly good enough to beat a defense like Penn State's on his own. For Sparty to win this game, they'll have to force multiple turnovers and avoid turning the ball over themselves. And that doesn't seem likely, given that Michigan State is the 114th-ranked team in expected turnover margin and Penn State is first.

Even if it does rain, I expect the Nittany Lions to roll here. This team has too many leaders and too much experience to let one loss derail a season that could still conceivably end in Atlanta, so I'm not at all worried about this team coming out flat. Instead, I expect this to be convincing, blowout win number one of November as James Franklin and his staff try to build as great of a playoff resume as they can. As Nicholas Cage portrays in the gif above, there may be moments here and there that have Penn State fans concerned while staring at their televisions, but it should be nice and relaxed in the end.

Penn State 42, Michigan State 17

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