Penn State and Mich. see fortunes reverse
ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Suddenly, it seems as if Penn State and Michigan have switched uniforms, a reversal of fortune for two of college football's most storied schools.
Penn State, ranked No. 8 and off to its best start since 1999, plays a Michigan team Saturday that hasn't begun this poorly in 15 years.
"It's just like a couple years back, everybody was saying we were back and Penn State was down," Michigan defensive end Pierre Woods said.
Penn State (6-0, 3-0) is alone at the top of the Big Ten following two straight losing seasons and four in five. As for Joe Paterno, the 78-year-old coach is enjoying a renaissance and seems as much in touch with the game as ever.
"They're back, that's for sure," Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said.
Now consider the Wolverines (3-3, 1-2). They are two-time defending Big Ten champions. These days, they are unranked and another loss would mark their worst record in mid-October since 1967, a predicament that has intensified the heat on Carr.
Michigan tight end Tim Massaquoi wants fans and critics to remember Carr's successes.
"All college coaches go through, 'What have you done for me lately?'" Massaquoi said.
Massaquoi has spent five years in Ann Arbor and has seen the Wolverines go 40-16 while the Nittany Lions went 27-26 during the same stretch.
"I get a lot of calls from Penn State fans and people in State College," said Massaquoi, who is from Allentown, Pa. "They call me and say 'You should've come here.' But look at my career. I've got a couple of Big Ten championships. I don't have any regrets."
Massaquoi, however, does want followers of college football's winningest program to demand excellence.
"That's how it should be in a program with a tradition like ours," he said. "People should expect us to win — we should expect to win."
Michigan, playing at home, is listed as a 3-point favorite.
"Rightfully so," Penn State quarterback Michael Robinson said. "We haven't done so well the last couple years. We understand that."
While Penn State was down the past two years, it didn't play Michigan after losing six straight from 1997-02. If the Nittany Lions end the losing streak, they would have three straight victories over ranked teams for the first time since 1995.
"We're pretty confident in ourselves right now," star linebacker Paul Posluszny said. "But I think with a big win like that against an established program like Michigan will be a big thing for us."
The Nittany Lions are winning again because of a traditionally tough defense and a new-look offense featuring Robinson, running back Tony Hunt and freshmen receivers Derrick Williams and Justin King. Penn State hasn't had a turnover since the first half of its game against Northwestern, a span of 10 quarters.
Carr is not surprised Paterno is winning again.
"I think he has always maintained a confidence that they were going to have a good team," Carr said. "I could remember last year, hearing him a few times on the teleconference, and he told everybody, they built it around the great defense. They have had a two-quarterback situation there for a couple of years, but I think now they have (Robinson) and they're doing some things to take advantage of his ability."
Michigan has struggled because of missed chances on offense and defense and injuries to key players. Paterno has tried to make sure his players are not overconfident.
"They are going to play one heck of a football game," he said. "There is a pride involved in Michigan football. There is a tradition involved in it. Those kids are not going to just say, 'OK, we lost a couple of games, let's hang it up.' No, we are in for a real, tough football game."