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Discussion: What can a win against Penn State tell us about Michigan and its title hopes?

Many still question Michigan’s capability to return to the CFP, so what would a top-10 win say about this team?

Michigan Wolverines wide receiver Cornelius Johnson (6)... Photo by Jeremy Hogan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The time has come for the No. 5 Michigan Wolverines to prove they are legit, as they face off against the No. 10 Penn State Nittany Lions. This is the biggest game so far this season for both teams and it’s safe to say there is a lot on the line.

The Wolverines seek to defend their title and make the trip back to the CFP stage. The Nittany Lions hope for something similar as they haven’t made the trek to Indy since 2016. With multiple season-altering implications hanging in the balance depending on what the score looks like when the clock hits zero, what can we say about Michigan if it get the win on Saturday?

Beyond the obvious of remaining undefeated, Michigan would outright be the main contender against Ohio State. That’s been the case for some time now, so let’s take it a step further and see what a win truly implies about the team. To figure that out we will look into the strengths of this week’s opponent, Penn State. If Penn State is truly an elite team and Michigan can come away with a nice win, how will this impact how the Wolverines are viewed by the committee and beyond?

With only two games left for Michigan before the first look at the CFP rankings, it’s important now to understand the strengths of these opponents to determine the strength of the Wolverines. I think the main thing that defines Penn State is the defense, and subsequently the turnover margin. So that’s where we will start.

The Nittany Lions have one of the best defenses against the rush in the conference. They currently have allowed 79.8 rushing yards a game. That is the second-best mark in the conference and fifth-best in all of FBS. Michigan, on the other hand, has one of the best rush offenses in the conference. Ranked third in the Big Ten, the Wolverines have averaged 212.3 rushing yards a game. The Wolverines are led behind their star running back Blake Corum, who has rushed for 735 yards and 11 touchdowns so far this season.

Penn State hasn’t allowed a rushing touchdown since week two against Ohio University. Granted, the caveat here is that the Nittany Lions haven’t been tested against talent akin to Corum. So then, the test here would imply that Michigan’s offensive line has remained a focal part of its success and Corum is a real contender for some elite hardware.

Now to the turnover margin. There isn’t much doubt that PSU will be heavily focused on maintaining its ability to contain the ground game of their opposition. If the defense is able to keep Corum under 100 yards — which hasn’t happened yet in conference play — then it can force the Wolverines to utilize their passing game more often. With more pressure from a tough defense, Michigan could make mistakes. The Nittany Lions have collected 11 turnovers in their last three games, putting their turnover margin at plus-six; that margin leads the conference.

It’s very probable that Penn State will actively seek out or force turnovers. It’s come to the Nittany Lions’ advantage on more than one occasion this season. If Michigan is able to play a clean game tomorrow then that’s an indicator of a team that is well disciplined despite a young quarterback at the helm. The Wolverines aren’t a team that allows those types of chances to their opponents and that attention to detail and protection is all the more important moving forward for Michigan this season.

There has been a lot of outside talk that Michigan isn’t legit because of the matchups it has had so far. I can’t deny that there are some things I don’t know about this team because of it. I think that the way this game is shaking out that I will finally get some answers about whether Michigan is a true contender once more for the Big Ten title.

So now the floor is yours. What aspects of Penn State’s game, that if Michigan can overcome, could imply the Wolverines are ready and able to defend their title? What kind of things can be answered about Michigan based on the outcome on Saturday? Share with us your thoughts and opinions in the comments below!