STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- First, a few injury updates. On his call-in radio show Thursday, coach Joe Paterno said that wide receiver Brett Brackett and guard Stefen Wisniewski are set to go for today's game. Brackett suffered a concussion in last week's game and Wisniewski sprained his knee during practice this week. It also looks like running back Evan Royster should be able to play despite a few dings here and there, including a finger he dislocated in practice this week.
Now, the game. Believe it or not, I get the feeling that people are overlooking Michigan. Why? Well, the Wolverines aren't very good right now. Still, this team has beaten the Lions nine straight times. That has to account for something. Don't tell me the players don't get a little spooked every time they see those winged helmets and maize and blue unis. And it has to give the Wolverines some confidence coming into the game, especially after they lost to lowly Toledo last week.
So I'm thinking Michigan gives Penn State, who may be peeking ahead to next Saturday's showdown with Ohio State, a better game than the 24-point spread would have you believe. I'm not saying this game comes down to a late drive, but I think the Wolverines will hang around into the fourth quarter until the Lions pull away.
Michigan is strong up front on defense. It could be the best front seven the Penn State offensive line has faced all season. But the Wolverines secondary is severely deficient and, as we've come to learn, the Lions offense can pretty much do whatever a defense gives them. I think quarterback Daryll Clark will attempt 30-plus passes in this game. Instead of hammering away on the ground with a banged-up Evan Royster, the Lions offense will use a bevy of short passes to open up the field down the middle.
On the other side of the ball, the Lions have a distinct advantage. The Michigan spread offense coach Rich Rodriguez brought with him from West Virginia looks as if it never left the Mountaineer state. Freshman quarterback Steven Threet isn't a running threat and his accuracy throwing the ball doesn't impose fear in opposing defenses. It looks like Threet will start even though he has a bruised elbow. Backup Nick Sheridan should seem some snaps as well. It won't matter. The Lions defense has done well against spread offenses (Coastal Carolina, Illinois and Purdue) this season and could feast on a battered offensive line.
I see a sloppy Penn State carrying a one touchdown lead into the fourth quarter before it pulls away and wins by 17. The problem for the No. 3-ranked Lions now is how they win games and by how much. A 17-point win could be viewed as letdown and could be viewed by the pollsters as such. Penn State just can't win from here on out if it wants to be in the national title conversation. The Lions need to win convincingly over teams that aren't considered on their level.
Prediction: Penn State 27, Michigan 10