Free Press sports editors share their predictions for Michigan’s football game against Penn State on Saturday (12 p.m., Fox):
Michigan hasn’t seen anything like this Penn State team… this season. But over the past two seasons, the Wolverines have beaten the Nittany Lions twice, learning what it takes to pull off tough wins. UM players have said in recent weeks that they continue to have a “one-track mind” toward their goal: a national championship. Even though Saturday may be tight at halftime – UM might even struggle to run all the way – it’s hard to see Penn State moving the ball consistently against UM’s defense, which doesn’t hasn’t allowed a snap inside his 8 all season. McCarthy runs for a touchdown and throws two more, as his case for a Heisman Trophy grows. The choice : UM 27, Penn State 13.
This is going to be a tremendous test for the Wolverines. Both teams have fantastic defenses, but I wonder if Penn State can score with Michigan. The Wolverines have more playmakers and JJ McCarthy is the X-factor. If Penn State shuts down Michigan’s receivers, or if Michigan’s running game fails, McCarthy will win it with his legs. The choice : UM 24, Penn State 14.
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Sure, you can believe the current sign-stealing scandal will provide enough of a distraction for the Wolverines to falter to the Nittany Lions 8-1 in Happy Valley. But Michigan is just too good to miss a chance to win its first statement game — against a team that nearly choked to Indiana two weeks ago — and it won’t be as close as most people think so. The choice : UM 38, Penn State 18.
A compelling argument can be made that Michigan has performed better on the road than at home this season. So the noisy environment of Beaver Stadium shouldn’t shake these Wolverines, who have remained focused as the sign-stealing controversy swirls around them. “The noise,” said quarterback JJ McCarthy, “isn’t going to stop.” And that shouldn’t faze McCarthy, who should be a difference-maker Saturday in Michigan’s first real test of the season. He averages nearly four more yards per attempt than his Penn State counterpart, Drew Allar. In a battle of top defenses, the team with the best and most composed quarterback wins. The choice : UM 26, Penn State 20.
This is not a classic James Franklin offense, if there is such a thing. And yet, compared to the offenses the Wolverines have faced, this is by far the best. It won’t be enough, JJ McCarthy will be the best player on the field. In the end, he is the one who makes the difference. The choice : UM 26, Penn State 23.