Will it be the inspired outfit that rallied furiously to edge Wisconsin in Ann Arbor Sept. 27? Or will it be the sad-sack group that followed that effort by being blown out by Illinois and then losing to Toledo, both at home?
Michigan, I feel, is better than their record shows, PSU quarterback Daryll Clark said, referring to the Wolverines' 2-4 mark under first-year coach Rich Rodriquez. We're not preparing for the team that lost to Toledo. We're preparing for the team that beat Wisconsin.
Of course, Michigan's 27-25 home win over the Badgers lost a bit of its luster when UW followed that up with a come-from-ahead loss to Ohio State and then a 48-7 thumping by Penn State in Madison.
But as Clark noted, there's another reason third-ranked Penn State (7-0) will be foolish to look past the Wolverines to what is shaping up as a monumental trip to Ohio State Oct. 25: Michigan has won nine straight over the Lions, dating back to the 1996 season.
While other players and the PSU coaches have been quick to publicly downplay the losing streak, Clark admits it is a motivating factor.
Everybody's been thinking about it, he said. There's no one on our roster who has beaten Michigan, and that's a thought that will be in our heads. But we have to put that aside. We can't dwell on that. We just have to prepare like we've been preparing each week and we'll be fine.
Clark has obviously been doing something right when it comes to game prep. The first-year starter began the season as a virtual unknown, but now finds himself leading the conference in efficiency rating while completing 64.4 percent of his passes to go along with a stellar 10-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He has also rushed for six TDs.
Though Clark will be going up against the Big Ten's second-worst pass defense this week, he's not taking anything for granted. He said the Wolverine defense will mess around with a quarterback, disguising coverages and making changes shortly before the snap.
I'm going to take a great deal of time on film study and execution this week to get the job done, he said. I'm confident we can get the job done.
With the kind of roll Penn State's been on, outscoring opponents by an average margin of 34.2 points per game, that confidence appears to be justified. But it's not like the Wolverines are lacking for confidence, at least outwardly.
In fact, Michigan receiver Darryl Stonum used his MySpace page to say, We will beat Penn State next weekend! Just remember I said it.
It didn't take long for friends to alert Clark to the page. He received a link via e-mail. But not even that flustered the coolest quarterback in the Big Ten.
A guaranteed win? Clark asked. That's a little fuel on the fire there, as well. But we have to prepare the right way in order to win this game, because Michigan is a better team than its record indicates.