All numbers included in this preview are using my PAN metric, Points Above Normal. PAN is essentially how many points above an average FBS team was a team/unit/player worth. For reference, an average FBS team is approximately equal to Northwestern or a top team from the MAC.
All games against FCS teams are excluded, as well as any plays in the second half where one team leads by more than 2 touchdowns or any end of half run-out-the-clock situations.
Unless otherwise noted, numbers include adjustment for opponent, which are starting to be more accurate as most teams have played at least half their schedule vs in-conference or quality non-conference opponents.
Rush Offense vs Penn St
Michigan Off +7 PAN, 2nd nationally, 1st Big Ten
PSU Def +1 , 53rd, 6th
Michigan has been well above average in every game this year and four of the six outings have been very positive. Alabama’s unit has been largely average. It had three decent performances and two below average games.
With Denard missing significant time against Iowa, the Cam Newton express has pushed Auburn into the #1 rushing spot nationally but Michigan is still a strong second. Cam also pushed Denard out of the top spot in the overall QB ratings but like the team rushing, Denard is still holding strong at #2, with all of Michigan’s +7 coming from him.
Hopkins has been the most efficiently productive back, averaging +1 in the games he has gotten carries, while Vincent Smith as netted out to +0 and Shaw is at –1.
With all of the injuries, Penn St may be able to slow the Michigan ground game but it should still be a big advantage for Michigan.
Pass Offense vs Penn St
Michigan Off +5, 16th, 2nd
PSU Def +2, 37th, 4th
Although the value and ranks are higher for the Penn St defense you’ll notice the large negative performance posted by the Nittany Lions when they faced their only other mobile QB against Illinois. Illinois had by far its best passing day of the season, leaving Penn St with an ugly –10 for the day.
Denard currently ranks 7th among Big Ten QBs in passing value but the team rating is much higher on the fact that Michigan is currently #2 nationally, having only allowed about 1.5 points lost due to sacks for the full season.
Hemingway, Roundtree and Stonum are presently ranked 10, 14, and 19 respectively among Big Ten receivers. Indiana is currently the only other team to have three receivers ranked in the top 20 in the Big Ten.
Even without an Illinois-level meltdown for the Nittany Lion pass defense, Michigan should still expect to come out ahead in the matchup through the air.
Rush Defense vs Penn St
Michigan Def –2, 93rd, 9th
Penn St Off –2, 96th, 9th
Two groups don’t get as evenly matched as the Penn St ground game and the Michigan rush defense. Both have the same value, nearly identical national ranks and both are #9 in the Big Ten. They both even have one terrible game (Iowa for PSU and MSU for Michigan) to go with a couple decent showings and a bunch of below average games.
When Royster has gotten carries he has been successful, ranking second individually among Big Ten running backs. Penn St just hasn’t been able to get him consistent carries and there hasn’t been any support behind him.
This shouldn’t be a matchup that is capable of killing the struggling Michigan defense. As long as Michigan can keep them from getting Royster a ton of carries a draw would be a likely outcome and a welcome showing.
Pass Defense vs Penn St
Michigan Def –3, 99th, 9th
PSU Off –3, 90th, 10th
Weakness on weakness. Just like the rush defense, the pass defense is in a pretty equal matchup. That is assuming that Penn St can match the production of their concussed true freshman quarterback with an upperclassman walk-on.
Michigan is hitting the critical portion of their schedule where they need to pick up some wins against the Big Ten’s three lowest rated quarterbacks. Robert Bolden is likely out on Saturday but he was already ranked dead last in the Big Ten quarterbacks with –3 per game.
Penn St has only produced one above average passing game of the season and that was against Kent St in Week 3. In about a half’s worth of time last weekend against lowly Minnesota, presumed Michigan starter Matt McGloin was –2.5 (unadjusted) despite throwing a pair of touchdown passes. In mop-up duty throughout the season, Kevin Newsome was –1 (unadjusted) in total for both rushes and passes.
No matter who the quarterback ends up being, these are the matchups over the next three Saturdays that Michigan’s pass defense has to make headway on to finish the season out strong.
Special Teams vs Penn St
Michigan –1.5, 108th, 11th
PSU +3.8, 14th, 1st
After four nice looking matchups, we get to the ugly one. Penn St has been very solid on special teams this season. The big score against Illinois is from two fumbled Illini punt returns. The Nittany Lions aren’t much of a threat to break a long return, but their punt and kickoff units, along with their kicker, have been among the best in the nation this season.
Penn St has the number one ranked KO cover unit with only one return past the 26 allowed on the season, and even that only went to the 35. Michigan’s strong offensive advantage should help neutralize any field position gains from Penn St’s good kicking units.
Prediction Almost Certain to Cost You Money if Taken Seriously
Michigan 35 Penn St 24
My model is calling for something closer than this but of the four major units, there is one great (Michigan Offense), one average (Penn St Defense) and two bad (Michigan Defense and Penn St Offense). Also part of the closer score is the big special teams disparity. I don’t think that will come to fruition because Penn St’s strength has come in the form of defensive field position but Michigan has proven this year that field position is largely irrelevant for their high-powered offense.
Elsewhere in the Big Ten
Iowa 28 Michigan St 26 – Sparty’s dream season could certainly clear it’s last major hurdle but I do think this is where it ends.
Northwestern 35 Indiana 31 – Should be a fun one to watch even if there isn’t much on the line.
Ohio St 42 Minnesota 17 – Another easy one for the Buckeyes
Illinois 27 Purdue 13 – The [NAME REDACTED] redemption tour continues
Utah 35 Air Force 31
Georgia 31 Florida 28
Upset Special: USC 35 Oregon 34 – Despite the gaudy numbers, my database is still not sold on the Ducks due to their relatively weak schedule.