The No. 10 Penn State Nittany Lions (2-0) host the No. 22 Auburn Tigers (2-0) in a Big Ten-SEC showdown Saturday at Beaver Stadium. Both programs are hoping for a bounce-back season after Penn State had its first losing campaign in head coach James Franklin’s tenure and Auburn moved on from former head coach Gus Malzahn despite seven straight winning seasons.
Auburn tabbed former Boise State head coach Bryan Harsin to take the reigns even though the Tigers were 6-4 last year and ranked as high as No. 7 in the AP Poll. Junior QB Bo Nix enters his third year as the starter. Nix is completing 74.4% of his passes for 383 yards with a 5 TD to 0 INT ratio and a 199.2 QB Rating through the first two games. Auburn won its first two games by 50 and 62 points, easily covering as massive favorites against the Akron Zips and Alabama State Hornets.
Penn State went into Camp Randall and upset the then-No. 12 Wisconsin Badgers 16-10 as 5.5-point road underdogs. The Nittany Lions then handled business against Ball State with a 44-13 trouncing as 23-point home favorites. Penn State’s defense has been on-point to start the year. The Nittany Lions have five takeaways to zero giveaways and have held their first two opponents to just 2.9 yards per rush.
- Opening Line: Penn State -7
- Current Line: Penn State -5.5
- Over/Under (O/U): 52.5
- Location: Beaver Stadium
- Start Time: Saturday, September 18, 2021. 7:30 p.m. ET
- Last meeting: No recent meetings
Since Franklin’s first season as Penn State head coach (2014), the Nittany Lions have the eighth-best cover rate in non-conference games at 17-9-1 against the spread (ATS). However, Penn State is 0-2 and 0-1-1 ATS in two games against SEC teams over that span. For what it’s worth, Boise State was 7-3 ATS as underdogs in the Harsin-era (2014-20).
*Betting splits pulled from Pregame.com’s Game Center*
There’s significant “reverse line movement” towards Auburn as Penn State opened as a touchdown favorite. But, oddsmakers have steamed the Nittany Lions down to a 5.5-point favorite currently despite a slight majority of both the bets and money wagered on them. It’s a red flag whenever sportsbooks make the more popular side cheaper. This is especially true for a nationally popular football program in Penn State, where there’s legalized sports gambling. I’d assume there will be a lot of Penn State alum and supporters at the Pennsylvania sportsbooks hammering the Nittany Lions. Whereas the opposite is the case for the total market. The total has been brought down a half-point because nearly 90% of the bets and money is on the Under.
The sharp side of the market isn’t buying Penn State should be this much of a favorite over Auburn, and neither am I. We aren’t getting the best value since we are getting to the party a little late, but Auburn is the right side. First of all, Penn State is getting too much credit for beating a Wisconsin team that might not be good. Sure, Wisconsin is ranked and a high-profile football program. But the Badgers were just 3-3 last season in Big Ten play.
On the flip side, Football Outsiders ranked Auburn ahead of Penn State and Wisconsin in the returning talent index in their preseason almanac. Furthermore, I’m buying stock in Auburn first-year head coach Harsin and the Tigers play in the toughest conference in college football. Harsin had a 78.4% winning rate at Boise State and was 3-2 in bowl games. Plus, the cupboard ain’t bare for Harsin. Nix is a former five-star recruit and an upperclassman, and Auburn sophomore RB Tank Bigsby ran for the fifth-most yards in the SEC last year.
The bottom line is Auburn has too much talent on both sides of the ball for Penn State to win by margin. Beaver Stadium will be rocking Saturday night, but Nix is used to playing in hostile environments. This feels like a defensive battle that will be decided with a late-game field goal.
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