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College Football Picks And Preview: Bar Fight At The Big House

Nov 7, 2015; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh reacts to a penalty in the second quarter against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: USATSI-227214 ORIG FILE ID: 2015711_szo_aa1_161.JPG

Now that we are all stuffed to the gills and feel like gluttons after a couple of days of lounging and eating, it is now time for dessert of a different variety.

Since so many games across the college football slate are postponed or cancelled, we will narrow our focus to one game with hopes of a nice and easy winning weekend.

Michigan vs.Penn State

Ann Arbor, Mich.

Noon, EST

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh. Photo by Mike Mulholland (

This matchup features two programs that are trying to avoid more embarrassment. Penn State remains winless, while Jim Harbaugh’s future still lingers as a talking point among the Michigan faithful.

Michigan’s two most disappointing performances so far this season have happened at the Big House. One was a 49-11 thumping at the hands of Wisconsin. The other, a 27-24 meltdown against Michigan State. While the Wolverines have won four of the last six against the Nittany Lions, this has the makings to resemble a drunken bar fight that anyone can win.

Will QB be the difference for Michigan?

Harbaugh made a quarterback change in the second quarter of the Rutgers game last week. That move may prove to be a job-saver, especially if sophomore Cade McNamara continues his streak.

The quarterback entered the the game against the Scarlett Knights with his hair on fire. The sophomore went 27-of-36, setting a program-high mark for completion percentage in a single game. He also threw for 260 yards and four touchdowns. Granted, this is Rutgers we are using as a measuring stick, but the Wolverines’ new leader looks to be impressive. I think McNamara’s success will continue against a Penn State defense that allows a completion percentage of 66.2 on average.

Regressing Back to the Mean

On offense, the Nittany Lions will have to take care of the ball to stay competitive. Quarterback Sean Clifford has eight interceptions on the year, which accounts for the bulk of the team’s 13 turnovers. The defense has only collected four all season. I expect this category to regress back towards more typical standards. The Lions will likely still be a little sloppy, but a -9 turnover margin is way off balance for a James Franklin squad.

Penn State’s Targets vs Don Brown’s Aggressive D

Aside from the turnovers, Clifford has been fine. He has 182 yards on the ground to go along with over 1,000 yards passing. He will have to continue to be a play-maker if Penn State is going to break through. The Nittany Lions are without star tight end Pat Freiermuth and lead back Noah Cain for the rest of the season. However, Clifford still has a sensational weapon in Jahan Dotson, who is averaging 17 yards per catch. This doesn’t smell good for a Don Brown defense that continues to leave receivers on islands. That trend has resulted in Michigan allowing opponents to feast. The Wolverines rank outside the top-100 in passing yards allowed (274) and sack rate (4.28).

Speaking of targets, Freiermuth’s backup has performed well in short time. So far, there’s nothing odd about Brenton Strange. The redshirt freshman has caught one hundred percent of his targets since replacing Freiermuth. Strange has six catches for 61 yards and a touchdown on the season.

Cain’s replacements have performed well, too. While Devyn Ford will be a steady presence, the back with the most to gain looks to be Kyvone Lee. The freshman is a threat in both the running and passing game. He has 140 yards on 27 touches and has reached pay dirt twice in small usage. Look for Lee’s opportunities to expand, especially against a leaky Michigan defense.

What Will Happen

Both of these teams allow 36 PPG. I think the line on the total is low due to recent history trends in this matchup. But we are dealing with unprecedented measures here. Penn State is on an all-time bad streak. But they will also implement some new faces with names to cement in Happy Vlore. On the other side, McNamara may be Harbuagh’s last hope. If his first game was any indication, the sophomore may be the best quarterback to emerge out of Harbaugh’s house of horrors.

Either way, I think both quarterbacks perform well. The two teams rank in the top-third in pass play percentage, with Michigan putting it in the air 57 percent of the time (11th). Expect many targets and a ton of stoppages on the clock. Look for this old-fashioned bar fight to turn into a shootout at high noon. Buckle up, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.


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