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When Penn State began Big Ten football play in 1993, its first marquee game as a conference member came Oct. 16 with a visit from Michigan, marking the first time those two proud programs had met. The Wolverines had won at least a share of the previous five Big Ten titles, while the Nittany Lions weren't far removed from their heyday of the 1980s when they won two national championships.

Jim Delany, the former Big Ten commissioner, envisioned big things with the addition of Penn State, and the first Nittany Lions-Wolverines matchup didn't disappoint. The atmosphere in State College that weekend was electric — I was there, covering the game for the State College-based Centre Daily Times — and the game fit the Big Ten mold. Michigan won 21-13 on the strength of a goal-line stand that denied Penn State four times from the 1-yard-line.

Fast forward 29 years later, and Penn State-Michigan has developed into an intriguing rivalry between two of the winningest programs in major college football. Michigan ranks first all time with 981 wins, and Penn State is eighth with 914. While the Wolverines and Nittany Lions don't play for a trophy, they often play for supremacy in the Big Ten's East Division, along with Ohio State.

On Saturday in Ann Arbor (11 a.m., Ch. 9), the rivalry brings a top-10 matchup between No. 10 Penn State and No. 5 Michigan. The reigning Big Ten champion Wolverines (5-0, 3-0 Big Ten) have won 15 of the 25 meetings with the Nittany Lions (5-0, 2-0).

"If you are going to reach the promised land, you need games where your team is showing what it's capable of doing,'' Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said.

So far, Michigan has shown it's capable of contending for the Big Ten title by riding a defense that's allowing 11.3 points per game (fifth fewest in the nation) and an offense that's scoring 43 points per game (seventh nationally). Running back Blake Corum's 11 touchdowns are the second most in the nation, while edge rusher Mike Morris is a budding star who has five sacks and has seamlessly replaced No. 2 overall draft pick Aidan Hutchinson.

Michigan is having fun while winning, too. When the Wolverines get a takeaway, they celebrate on the sideline with "turnover buffs'' in which the player who got the ball puts on a pair of sunglasses and poses with teammates for an imaginary photograph.

"I love it,'' Harbaugh said. "Let the guys have fun.''

Fun is back for Penn State, too, which had fallen on tough times the past two years. Coach James Franklin led the team to the Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl berth in 2016 and Fiesta and Cotton Bowl bids in 2017 and 2019. The Nittany Lions, however, went 4-5 in the COVID-shortened 2020 season and 7-6 last year.

They won their season opener at Purdue on a last-minute touchdown pass by sixth-year senior Sean Clifford, then routed Auburn 41-12 as true freshman Nick Singleton, the nation's top running back recruit, rushed for 124 yards and two TDs on 10 carries. Franklin wants his team to draw upon those results.

"It helps because we've been on the road before in tough environments,'' he said. "I mean, obviously, this is going to be one of them. The experience matters.''

The Michigan game begins a three-week stretch for Penn State that also includes visits from the Gophers next week and No. 2 Ohio State on Oct. 29. "We know that these types of games each year are critical,'' Franklin said. "We're not the only program in this conference or in this country that is in this situation.''

Harbaugh, preparing for the latest installment in a rivalry started nearly 30 years ago, would agree. "We've got the biggest challenge of the year so far.''