Penn State versus Michigan State predictions: Can the Nittany Lions win their 10th game?

Jon Sauber
Centre Daily Times (TNS)

Penn State is one win away from double digit victories this season and will try to win No. 10 at home Saturday. The Nittany Lions will celebrate their seniors and take on the Michigan State Spartans at Beaver Stadium. Here are some final thoughts, predictions and analysis ahead of the Nittany Lions' matchup with the Spartans Saturday afternoon.

Celebrating the seniors

This is going to be a good chance for Penn State to give credit to a group of really good players that probably won't get the credit they deserve for what they've accomplished. No, this is not a soliloquy about Sean Clifford and his career and how he's not been appreciated enough. There is something to be said about becoming the program's all-time leading passer and the durability and longevity it takes to pull something like that off. But that's not what this is about. This is about the rest of the players leaving.

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Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford (14) throws against Michigan in the first half of an NCAA college football game in Ann Arbor, Mich., Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Players like Ji'Ayir Brown and PJ Mustipher on the defense that have been stalwarts for multiple years and have consistently been a part of one of the best units in the country. Or Jonathan Sutherland who has been a great special teams player — so much so that I forgot the No. 0 goes to the best special teamer on the roster because I grew so used to him wearing it — and moved defensive positions to help the team. And even someone like Mitch Tinsley who will end up spending one year at Penn State and helped stabilize a position that could have been in real trouble without his contributions.

Playing out the stretch

We've reached the doldrums of the season and Penn State has done a good job of not letting that affect its play. The Nittany Lions have been essentially eliminated from the College Football Playoff since the end of October. It would have been easy to let that overtake the team and drop a game or mess around and end up in a closer game than anticipated. Instead, they have dominated their last three opponents and put to bed any thoughts that they might not finish the season strong. They've outscored those last three teams — Indiana, Maryland and Rutgers — 130 to 24. Yes, that's the bottom of the Big Ten East, but it's still notable.

Mostly because it means Penn State continues to smash teams that it should beat. That will have to keep up against the Spartans but there's no reason to believe it won't. This has been a big differentiator between this team and the last few iterations. This group did not fold when pressure mounted or allow should-be wins to turn into losses. Now, there's still a chance for that to change this weekend but it seems like it won't happen.

Keep an eye toward next season

This is another part of November that has been a theme for Penn State, but now there's even more of a reason to pay attention to the youth on the roster. This will be the last time the freshmen on the roster will play in Beaver Stadium until next season. Kaytron Allen and Nick Singleton are already dynamic and have given fans plenty of reason to be excited this season. That's only going to improve as they continue refining their games. There are other young players on the team who could play more prominent roles next year — like safety Kevin Winston Jr. and cornerback Cam Miller — and they should get more playing time on Saturday.

Of course, there is one freshman who will probably play late in Saturday's game that will draw the most attention. Drew Allar, if he takes the field against Michigan State, will likely be doing so in Beaver Stadium for the last time as a backup. It would be a shock if he wasn't the Nittany Lions' starter next year, and that should be a tantalizing thought for fans in attendance as they soak in the final regular season game of the 2022 season.

Final predictions

Penn State 35, Michigan State 13: Michigan State has mailed this one in. The Spartans looked like a team that was giving up last week against Indiana and it's hard to imagine a trip to State College is going to be the thing that brings the juice back for them. Penn State should win this one comfortably, but the struggling passing offense could keep it a little bit closer than the Nittany Lions would like.

MVP: Nick Singleton. Michigan State has a really bad run defense and the team hasn't been able to have a full contact practice in a few weeks because of injury issues. That bodes well for Singleton, who should be able to break off a few big runs and cap off the regular season with a 100+ yard performance.

Good gamble: This is a tough one. Penn State's offensive struggles are enough reason to give me pause in taking the Nittany Lions as an 18.5 point favorite, but Michigan State is really bad. I'd still take -18.5, but don't feel as confident in that as I usually would when I feel a Penn State victory is a near certainty.