Penn State plays a sneaky important game Saturday against an unpredictable Michigan State team that brings who-knows-what kind of mojo to Beaver Stadium. According to James Franklin, the Lions have “good mojo,” buoyed by a three-game winning streak. But the Spartans could come up with anything.
So what to expect on Seniors Day? Let’s try to unravel it.
No. 11 Penn State (9-2) vs. Michigan State (5-6)
- When: 4 p.m. ET Saturday
- Where: Beaver Stadium
- TV: FS1
- Streaming: fuboTV (start free trial)
- Betting line: Penn State is an 18.5-point favorite according to SI Sportsbook
- Series History: Michigan State leads 18-17-1
- Last meeting: Michigan State 30-27 in 2021
- Streaks: James Franklin is 3-5 against the Spartans
Aside from Senior Day and quarterback Sean Clifford’s last home game, the Lions have a lot to do with Saturday’s result. Penn State is enjoying its fourth 10-win season under Franklin and second for Clifford as a starter. Ten wins represents a success rate in college football that is difficult to achieve and even more difficult to maintain. It would mean some sort of recovery for Franklin and his program after two degenerate years.
The head coach has spent his tenure at Penn State explaining how program, university and administrative direction combine to achieve success. Now he apparently has it with athletic director Patrick Kraft and Penn State President Neeli Bendapudi.
“That’s probably the biggest thing,” Franklin said. “I feel like I can now focus more time and energy on our players and our program than I possibly have in 12 years [as a head coach.”
With that newfound freedom, Franklin has the opportunity to turn a 10-win season into a runway to the expanded playoff. Ten wins might convince tweener players considering the NFL Draft to return for another season. They also turn recruits’ heads and, more important, appeal to impact players in the Transfer Portal.
Penn State could use an impact receiver (or two) and perhaps an offensive tackle (or two). Beating Michigan State, closing the regular season with four straight wins and playing in a New Year’s 6 bowl would help with that.
Penn State Players to Watch
Sean Clifford: Clifford’s last home start marks his 23rd at Beaver Stadium. He is the only Penn State quarterback to throw for 10,000 yards. And he knows fans are ready for him to go. So give him the ovation he deserves.
Nicholas Singleton: Penn State likely will run at Michigan State, which fields the nation’s 100th-ranked rushing defense. Last week was Kaytron Allen’s opportunity to shine. On Saturday, Singleton tops 1,000 yards as a freshman.
Abdul Carter: The freshman linebacker led Penn State in defensive snaps at Rutgers and has three tackles for loss the past two weeks. He’s going to be special.
Michigan State Players to Watch
Cal Haladay: The linebacker ranks second in the Big Ten in tackles (9.9 per game) and made 19 vs. Rutgers. Singleton and Allen will keep him busy.
Payton Thorne: The quarterback’s completion rate (63.4 percent) is a point higher than Clifford but he’s also thrown 10 interceptions. Thorne and Clifford are similar, but Clifford has a better run game.
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Bryce Baringer: He’s the country’s best punter in terms of yards (48.4 per attempt) but his per-game average has been dwindling since October, as Big Ten weather kicked in.
Penn State has no idea what state Michigan State is in, and the Spartans might now know either. On Wednesday, seven players were charged, one with felony assault, following the Oct. 29 tunnel incident at Michigan Stadium. Coach Mel Tucker said earlier this week that he doesn’t have enough healthy players to conduct contact drills. And the Spartans blew a 17-point, second-half lead at home last week against Indiana.
Perhaps Michigan State rallies above all that to play its game of the season. To counter, the Lions should employ a first-strike strategy. If the defense comes out hot and Clifford controls his emotions, Penn State should take charge quickly and stifle the Spartans.
Penn State 34, Michigan State 14
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AllPennState is the place for Penn State news, opinion and perspective on the SI.com network. Publisher Mark Wogenrich has covered Penn State for more than 20 years, tracking three coaching staffs, three Big Ten titles and a catalog of great stories. Follow him on Twitter @MarkWogenrich. And consider subscribing (button’s on the home page) for more great content across the SI.com network.