PSU-Michigan will be good ... just not yet

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- With the number of memorable moments Michigan and Penn State have given fans over the years, it seems odd that the series is one that has largely been played only during the lifetimes of those who are currently playing in it.

The series only reaches back to the Clinton presidency, but because they are two traditional national powerhouses in college football, it seems like one that should’ve started before 1993.

Instead, it’s a game that Bo Schembechler never coached in. A game that has only been in each stadium eight times. A game that -- by rivalry standards -- gets overshadowed on both schedules, every season.

But what it has provided is rivalry-like highlights. It has been a series of inches and seconds, of legends and tales.

In the first-ever meet between these two teams, a Beaver Stadium record-setting attendance saw a goal- line stand from the Michigan defense, just six inches from the Penn State end zone. The next year, Penn State avenged that loss and walked away with a 31-24 win, one that showed the nation that the Nittany Lions belonged in the Big Ten.

The 1995 game was preceded by 18 inches of snow in mid-November.

In 1997, Brady Hoke was on the sidelines as an assistant coach to Lloyd Carr when Michigan handed Joe Paterno the worst loss of his career in Happy Valley, 34-8.

And when that game seemed as though it’d never be topped, 2005 rolled around, and with it, a come-from-behind, 54-yard drive and then-freshman Mario Manningham making a last-second snag to keep Michigan from falling to four losses.

And it kept Penn State from the national title conversation. That season, the Nittany Lions went 12 and one second, not 11-1.

Through this matchup, that game seems to be the highlight -- a memorable high point (or low point) in a relatively short-lived series. It accentuated the toughness this game usually holds, strong linemen and big plays -- themes of each program.

On Monday, during his weekly press conference, Hoke spoke of why Penn State would be a tough team this season.


“They’re Penn State.”

Which they are.

And Michigan will be tough because Michigan is Michigan.

They are two traditional national powerhouses. Two schools that have held to their traditions, their chants, their songs, their uniforms for so long. They emphasize education and no matter what, they seem to be two schools whose history puts them in Big Ten title conversations.

But this season doesn’t quite hit any of the benchmarks that the previous games set. It feels as though there are still far too many question marks on both sides for this to truly be anything too special.

Even in 2010, which was the first time the game featured two unranked teams, there was Denard Robinson -- a player who beckoned attention on any field in which he stepped. Where he was, there would be plays. Or at least the possibility of plays.

But instead, a former walk-on, and nearly unknown Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin, stole the show and the game for the Nittany Lions in his first career start.

This season's matchup seems devoid of those kinds of huge play-makers. It seems devoid of great defenses. It seems devoid of the ingredients that have made those great moments and memorable games.

It’s like the coffee that has been in the pot for too long or the cookies left out overnight. It’s still good. Just not the same.

But what this game does seem to be brimming with is potential. These two sides -- and it will be evident on Saturday -- have the elements to have 1997-like or 2005-like games in the near future.

It has two coaches that became prominent on the college scene at similar times, two coaches who have gained major respect from their contemporaries. It has two programs that have recently gone through facelifts (though for very different reasons), two schools fighting for relevancy on the national stage.

It has recruiting classes that show there will be talent on the field in the years to come. It has two of the biggest, loudest and best stadiums in the country, and fan bases that would travel to either.

It has a pro-style quarterback in Christian Hackenberg who will continue to grow, and one at Michigan waiting in the wings.

And with the Big Ten realignment coming, these two programs will both fall under the East Division, and, as a result, they’ll face each other year in and year out.

This game has the potential to grow to the level of hated rivals. But it’s not there yet.

Give O’Brien and Hoke time, give time some time, and this game could be one that makes even the 2005 game seem stale.