Penn State Enjoying Role of Underdog

Forget the hoopla. Forget the unbeaten record. Forget that Penn State is ranked first in three of the four BCS-affiliated computer polls that have been made public to date. Forget all that. As far as Michael Robinson is concerned, the Nittany Lions are underdogs heading into their showdown Saturday against unranked Michigan.

Why should the Lions, who have risen to No. 8 in the Associated Press poll, feel as though they still have something to prove?

“I guess because as seniors, not to say anything bad, but we're kind of used to not having that much success,” Robinson said. “We like to creep up on teams. We like teams to say that's the same old Penn State we've seen the past couple of years. We like proving people wrong.”

It's doubtful anyone is confusing this year's Penn State squad with its recent predecessors. But Robinson is correct in noting that the Lions still have their share of doubters. After all, they really are underdogs this weekend. Despite its 3-3 record and 1-2 mark in Big Ten play, Michigan is a 3 1/2 point favorite to beat Penn State for the seventh consecutive time.

That should help keep everyone's feet planted firmly on the ground this week. There were concerns that the Lions might bask too long in the afterglow of their electrifying 17-10 victory over Ohio State last Saturday, a win that left the team alone atop the Big Ten standings and catapulted it into national championship contention.  

But according to Robinson, there's no reason to get carried away, especially this week. The Wolverines, who were stunned by Minnesota last week, 23-20, “pose just as much of a danger” as Ohio State, Robinson said.

“After every game they've lost, they've come out and blown someone out,” the senior quarterback added. “We have to stay mentally focused, focused on the little things.”

The Lions are also focused on a big thing — their six-game losing streak against Michigan. Penn State hasn't beaten the Wolverines since 1996, its most recent loss coming in 2002. Robinson, a redshirt freshman at the time, made his first college start in that game, opening at tailback in place of the injured Larry Johnson. He carried only three times for 14 yards as Johnson entered the game on Penn State's second series. The switch was to no avail as Penn State fell in overtime, 27-24.

One of Robinson's most vivid memories of that game is of Wolverines players chortling about their mastery of Penn State as they filed out of Michigan Stadium. Said the quarterback: “It leaves a nasty taste.”

There's more on the line for Penn State in this year's game. In 2002, the Lions went into Ann Arbor ranked 15th and having already lost once. This year, there are championship hopes to protect, both in the Big Ten and nationally. That's why the Lions are wary.  

“If we go 6-5, nobody will talk about how we were 6-0,” Robinson said. “We have to take it one game at a time and focus.”

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