After suffering a heartbreaking loss at Ohio State,Penn State must regroup and hit the road for another Big Ten East battle in East Lansing. Penn State will visit a Michigan State team coming off its own crushing defeat on the road last week, an overtime loss at Northwestern.
The Big Ten picture could have looked much different coming into this weekend had the Nittany Lions and the Spartans won last weekend. As it stands now, both teams are giving chase to Ohio State. For Penn State, after losing a head-to-head tiebreaker to the Buckeyes last week, there is no margin for error if Ohio State continues to win. Penn State must win out and hope Ohio State loses twice. Michigan State has a slightly more optimistic outlook in the Big Ten East if it can take down Penn State this week. The Spartans play Ohio State next week. A 2-0 record the next two games likely puts Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game at the end of the season, and that would mean defeating Michigan, Penn State, and Ohio State in the same season for Mark Dantonio's program.
Bottom line: The winner remains in the hunt for the Big Ten championship, with or without some help, and the loser can start making plans for a less prestigious bowl destination at the end of the season.
Penn State at Michigan State
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 4 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Penn State -8.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Saquon Barkley looks to rejuvenate Heisman momentum
The Penn State running back set the tone early last week in Columbus with his second game-opening kickoff return for a touchdown of the season and a 36-yard touchdown run later in the first half as Penn State was rolling early. However, Barkley's lack of production aside from those two plays took some of the steam out of his Heisman run, and the game also saw Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett jump into the conversation in a big way. But Barkley remains the betting favorite and will look to redeem himself down the final stretch while keeping Penn State on the playoff radar and in position for a New Year's Six bowl game. Barkley was held to 14 rushing yards on 12 carries and 11 receiving yards on two receptions by Michigan State last season, with one rushing touchdown.
2. Was Penn State's defense exposed?
Ohio State's J.T. Barrett had a career day against a Penn State defense that had been playing really well this season. So is Penn State's defense as good as previously advertised, or was it exploited by the Buckeyes? The better question may be whether or not it matters, as Penn State will not face an offense as potent as Ohio State's the rest of the year, including this week's matchup at Michigan State. Will the Spartans and quarterback Brian Lewerke manage to find the same holes in coverage? Penn State's defense will be itching to move on from last week, and this is a solid opportunity to bounce back against a Michigan State offense ranked in the middle of the Big Ten and nationally in total offense, rushing offense and passing offense.
3. Spartans will rely on defense
Michigan State may have its ups and downs on offense, but the Spartans' defense is what will give them the best chance to hang around and perhaps score a big win in the end. Michigan State is allowing 4.4 yards per play, which is fourth in the Big Ten and just behind Penn State's 4.36. The Spartans have allowed 19.6 points per game, a number that was inflated a bit by last week's triple-overtime loss to Northwestern, with 22 points allowed in the overtime sessions. Penn State's offense has shown the ability to shred a defense like Michigan's, but Ohio State's proved to be difficult to exploit. Michigan State may fall somewhere in between.
Michigan State gave Penn State a good run last season in the regular-season finale, but the Nittany Lions turned things up a few notches in the second half with a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game on the line. Given last week's results, the stakes this week are not quite as high, but a win is necessary for both teams in their hopes of getting to a New Year's Six bowl game. Penn State's offense could be in for a slow start against an inspired Michigan State defense that will focus on Saquon Barkley as teams have done recently to varying degrees of success, and Penn State will have some offensive line concerns at play, but the Nittany Lions are still incredibly tough to keep off the scoreboard. Even Ohio State can admit that. Penn State will get out of East Lansing to keep its glimmer of playoffs hope in play.
Prediction: Penn State 31, Michigan State 17
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and The Comeback as well as hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.