Déjà vu. People may say they are experiencing it, but how often is that actually the case? In many instances, it feels misused in the same manner that Alanis Morrisette butchers irony.

But for Penn State, déjà vu is real. When the 10th-ranked Nittany Lions travel to No. 5 Michigan on Saturday, the scene will feel eerily familiar.

A year ago, Penn State was undefeated when it visited a top-5 Big Ten opponent wearing yellow-tinted pants. It ended up being the turning point of Penn State’s season, and not in a good way.

The Nittany Lions led No. 3 Iowa 17-7, but injuries to quarterback Sean Clifford and defensive tackle PJ Mustipher tilted the table in the Hawkeyes’ favor. Iowa rallied for a 23-20 win.

Penn State went in the tank, closing the regular season on a 2-5 skid.

It’s all Mustipher could think about this offseason — how good the Lions looked before that game, and how it crumbled apart thereafter.

“Guys got a taste of what being at Penn State is really like when we’re 5-0 and campus is buzzing and people are talking about us,” Mustipher said at Big Ten Media Days.

That delicious taste was followed by a bitter one after his season-ending injury.

“I was never a person to say ‘why me?’ But why now?” he recalled. “Why when we’re 5-0, No. [4] in the country, feeling great and playing good football?”

This, in turn, evolved into a new perspective this preseason.

“Everything happens for a reason. It was challenging watching that. I never want to be watching anything while my team’s going and I’m just sitting back. But it happens,” Mustipher said in July. “You’ve got to move on, got to be better from it. Gotta grow from it. We put that in the past and we’re ready to move on.”

Moving, as it turns out, to precisely the same position for the second straight season.

It’s a week later on the schedule, but here Penn State is again. The Nittany Lions are a perfect 5-0 after their bye. Michigan is 6-0. The winner controls its destiny in the Big Ten title race and College Football Playoff picture.

Will Penn State have a better outcome in the sequel to last year’s version of this game?

If so, the fact the Nittany Lions are battle-tested on the road is likely to be a deciding factor.

The rare Big Ten road warriors

There are 3 unbeaten teams remaining in the Big Ten: Penn State, Michigan and Ohio State. And at the moment, the biggest separator for that trio is strength of schedule.

Penn State has pumped some iron, while the Wolverines and Buckeyes have benched the bar.

Ohio State started the season with a sexy-looking matchup against Notre Dame, but did not actually go on the road until Saturday’s 49-20 win at increasingly hapless Michigan State. That’s some favorable scheduling.

Michigan has at least been road-tested after opening with 3 straight nobodies. After getting something of a challenge from Maryland in its Big Ten opener, Michigan beat Iowa and Indiana in back-to-back road games.

But that still pales in comparison to Penn State’s slate. The Nittany Lions dove into the deep end of the pool, opening the season at Purdue before visiting Auburn in Week 3.

The Boilermakers are in solid shape to be the Big Ten West representative in the B1G championship game. And though James Franklin groused about opening Big Ten play on the road for the seventh straight season, he may be quite thankful that’s the case come Saturday afternoon.

Isn’t it ironic?

As for Auburn … well, Jordan-Hare Stadium is still a good setting to prepare for future raucous road tests. Even if the crowd was one-third Penn State fans.

Penn State’s road experience isn’t going to make any tackles or score any touchdowns, but it could make a difference.

Take the Nittany Lions offensive line, which remains a point of skepticism. That unit has 2 games of experience using a silent snap count this season. And perhaps that’s enough to prevent 2-3 false starts that kill Penn State drives.

Maybe that doesn’t make any difference on Saturday. But if these teams are evenly matched, even a detail like that could serve as a tipping point.

The key to Penn State’s season

Franklin’s best teams at Penn State have all taken care of their business away from Beaver Stadium.

From 2016-19, Penn State won at least 9 games every season. All four of those teams had winning records on the road, going a combined 13-7.

In the past 2 seasons, the Nittany Lions were a combined 4-5 on the road.

With a win at Michigan, Penn State would clinch its first winning road record since 2019. Indiana and Rutgers are the only trips remaining after the visit to the Big House.

If this is one of Franklin’s better teams, we will know for sure on Saturday. The Nittany Lions have been here before. It’s where they go next that has a chance to be different.