The Michigan football team’s nine-game win streak over Penn State will end Saturday, since the third-ranked Nittany Lions are favored by 23.5 points.
Or will it?
Michigan (2-4) has been ranked lower than the Nittany Lions in five of the last nine games, including last year’s 14-9 win. And Penn State (7-0) has been undefeated three times in the streak entering its matchup with Michigan.
“I said to the kids after the ballgame, I said, ‘Hey, I hope you guys don’t fall asleep and think that because we beat Wisconsin in pretty good shape, and Michigan had some problems, that it’s going to be an easy football game,’ ” Penn State coach Joe Paterno said. “I said, ‘You’ve got to remember, these guys have beaten us nine (games) in a row. They know how to beat us.’ “
Even if the streak ends Saturday, it will still go down as one of the most impressive feats in Michigan’s storied history.
Although Michigan has had a winning streak of at least nine games against every Big Ten team, none of those streaks contained as many wins over ranked teams. The Nittany Lions were ranked entering six of the nine games. No other Big Ten team was ranked more than twice in its losing streak to Michigan.
The first game in the streak launched the Wolverines into the forefront of the race for the 1997 National Championship, which they split with Nebraska.
In 2002, Penn State couldn’t capitalize on its only winning season between 2000 and 2004. The Nittany Lions pushed the Wolverines to the first overtime game in Michigan Stadium history, but fell 27-24. An apparent catch on Penn State’s last drive was ruled out of bounds, taking away the Nittany Lions’ chance of a game-winning field goal in regulation. Paterno later filed a complaint with the Big Ten regarding the call, one of several that have been questioned during the streak.
In 2005, then-Michigan coach Lloyd Carr convinced the officials to put two seconds back on the clock during the Wolverines’ final drive, a decision the Penn State faithful frequently decry. On a play that began with one second left, Chad Henne threw a touchdown pass to Mario Manningham, giving the Nittany Lions their only loss of the season.
The competition has kicked up off the field, too. On national signing day this year, freshman running back Michael Shaw decommitted from Penn State in favor of Michigan, drawing Paterno’s ire.
The streak, which began before Carr ever won a Big Ten title, will be tested Saturday at 4:30 in State College. The point spread has never been so large in the series.
“It’s an unusual place to be — being a 24-point underdog going to into a game,” senior nose tackle Terrance Taylor said. “But it makes you angry, and it makes you play better.”