When Penn State joined the Big Ten back in 1993, the the Nittany Lions’ (mostly) yearly matchup with Michigan was likely looked at as a game that would have national ramifications. For the first few seasons, that was certainly the case, with Penn State’s first three trips to the Big House being ranked affairs for both sides. Since the turn of the century though, it’s been a different story. In the eight Nittany Lions-Wolverines battles to take place in Ann Arbor, only two of them have seen both teams be ranked inside the Top 25.
The reason for the struggles for each program is a story for a different day, though. Instead, let’s take a look at the other five ranked matchups between the two programs to take place inside the Big House, and see what historical odds and trends the Nittany Lions will be up against this Saturday.
1994: No. 3 Penn State 31, No. 5 Michigan 24
The Nittany Lions’ first trip to the Big House was one of the bigger tests that the star-studded 1994 team would have to face. While it started out looking like a potential blowout — Penn State was a holding call away from being up 20-0 at halftime — the Wolverines turned it into a ballgame in the second half, tying the game up at 24-24. Penn State eventually pulled through though, with Kerry Collins finding Bobby Engram in the endzone late in the fourth quarter to give the Nittany Lions the lead for good, all the while preserving what would continue to be a perfect season.
1996: No. 11 Penn State 29, No. 16 Michigan 17
Under the leadership of Wally Richardson, Curtis Enis, and Joe Jurevicius, the Penn State offense took advantage of a number of turnovers that the Penn State defense was able to generate en route to a 29-17 quasi-crock-potting of the Wolverines.
Two Big House visits, two victories for the Penn State. Not such a tough place to play, right?
1998: No. 22 Michigan 27, No. 9 Penn State 0
Wrong. The Nittany Lions got embarrassed in 1998, giving up a score to Tom Brady and Michigan on the first offensive drive of the game, which was apparently all the Wolverines needed as they held Penn State scoreless the entire game.
This game was the continuation of a streak that started the year before in 1997, where Michigan went onto beat Penn State in nine straight games from 1997-2007. That stretch, of course, included the controversial 2002 matchup.
2002: No. 13 Michigan 27, No. 15 Penn State 24
Having been born in 1993, this is the first game on this list I actually remember. There’s a good chance you remember it too: the Tony Johnson Right Foot Game.
With the game tied up 21-21, Zach Mills found Johnson down the sideline for a big gain — except the referee called him out of bounds, nullifying the catch. The replay clearly showed that Johnson got his right foot in bounds, and had it been called correctly, the Nittany Lions would have had the ball inside the Michigan 25-yard line with 43 seconds left. With that call, a likely-win turned into a loss, as the Wolverines pulled through in the OT.
2018: No. 5 Michigan 42, No. 14 Penn State 7
This game was gross. For what was really one of the more underrated Penn State teams — narrow losses to Ohio State and Michigan State really soured what could have been a more fun season — this was just a joke of a blowout. If you remember, this was the “Revenge Tour” Michigan squad, and man oh man, did this loss really hurt the ego — right down to the “Zombie Nation” mocking.
So yeah, despite it starting out pretty well for the Nittany Lions, it’s been a while since a ranked Penn State team beat a ranked Michigan team in the Big House. Let’s hope that 26-year drought comes to an end this Saturday.