No. 2 Penn State obliterated No. 19 Michigan, 42-13, in a white out game in State College. With under 10 minutes to go in the game, as the Nittany Lions were driving for the touchdown (by starting quarterback Trace McSorley) that’d give them 42 points, ABC’s Maria Taylor reported PSU offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead had just told his players, “Hey, you guys remember 49-10?”
That’s a reference, of course, to Michigan’s winning score the previous year, a sign this game meant a whole lot more to the Nittany Lions than just a Big Ten W against a ranked team.
And on the last snap of the game, Penn State had the ball and chose not to kneel.
Here was everything we listed out before the game as REVENGE FACTORS for Penn State:
1. There’s the basic payback factor for a single game.
Penn State got flat-out embarrassed by Michigan last season in a 49-10 butt-whooping. Michigan’s dominant defense held the Nittany Lions under 200 total yards. Saquon Barkley rushed for only 59, and the Nittany Lions didn’t even get a touchdown until the fourth quarter.
At the time, things were getting so rough in State College that the athletic director had to publicly say that James Franklin wasn’t getting fired:
Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour put to rest the idea that head football coach James Franklin is on any sort of hot seat, or is coaching for his job this season, on Wednesday while in Altoona for a Blair County Chamber of Commerce, as the Lions prepare for a meeting with Minnesota on Saturday at Beaver Stadium.
"He's not on the hot seat, and he's not going to be on the hot seat in December," Barbour said, according to the Altoona Mirror.
That was Penn State’s second loss. The third wouldn’t come until the Rose Bowl, by which point the Nittany Lions had won the Big Ten championship. Franklin’s contract was then extended.
“I really don't think last season's game has a whole lot to do with this Saturday's game,” he told reporters at a press conference this week. “I don't think past historical records have a lot of factor into this game Saturday. What we've got to do is prepare like crazy for a team, a university, a program we have tremendous respect for, do the things that we need to do to make sure our team is ready to go out and play on Saturday, stick with our routine as you guys know I believe in strongly.”
2. The Nittany Lions can end Michigan’s Playoff candidacy 13 months after the Wolverines did the same to them.
That embarrassing loss didn’t hurt just once. It came back to bite Penn State when Playoff time came around. The committee has shown that conference championships matter, but they only matter if you win enough to make them matter.
An earlier loss to Pitt was one thing, and an excusable thing at that (hi, Clemson), but a second loss is not just brushed aside by the committee:
Your conference/division title doesn’t make for a Playoff resume unless you win enough (at which point other things can work in your favor too). Your 13 data points don’t get you into the Playoff unless you win. Those things can get you ranked ahead of Michigan despite losing to Michigan head-to-head, but that’s about it.
We didn’t think at the end of September that 2016 Penn State was about to have a legitimate argument about a Playoff berth, so stranger things have happened than Michigan eventually joining the discussion this year. Michigan doesn’t look like a pack of world-beaters on offense this season, but it still would be a little delicious for Penn State to be the unofficial end to any Playoff hopes Michigan has.
3. Taking a longer view, Penn State can end a three-game losing streak to Michigan.
Penn State opened as a 12.5-point favorite, the first time the Nittany Lions have been favored since 2009. Penn State’s beaten Michigan only four times since 1997. The line’s shrunk to 9.5, but PSU is still a convincing home favorite.
Perhaps this is the most important. It’s about a years’ worth of bragging rights. The Nittany Lions haven’t had them in a while.
4. Penn State can all but ensure another offseason full of jokes at Jim Harbaugh’s expense.
Jim Harbaugh’s won a lot, but he has never won a division or conference championship at a Power 5 school. “Third in the Big Ten East” is a common taunt among fans of Michigan’s rivals. The Wolverines enter this game fourth in the Big Ten East, and a loss would make things worse.
5. Penn State’s already on a little revenge tour.
On Pitt’s return trip to Penn State this year, the Lions thrashed the Panthers, 33-14. Afterward, Franklin compared Pitt to Akron. That was largely about branding Penn State as a heavyweight like Michigan or Ohio State, not a more middling team like Pitt. But it was still a sick rivalry burn, and Penn State fans enjoyed it.
Here’s hoping he similarly disrespects Michigan after this game.