Generation-old Big Ten rivals clash Saturday when the No. 20 Penn State Nittany Lions (5-2, 2-2 in Big Ten) visit the No. 5 Ohio State Buckeyes (6-1, 4-0). The kickoff at Ohio Stadium is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET with the game airing on ABC.
Penn State has lost back-to-back games at a then-No. Iowa Hawkeyes team 23-20 on Oct. 9, followed by an embarrassing 20-18 overtime defeat to the Illinois Fighting Illini as 24.5-point home favorites last weekend. The Nittany Lions are 4-3 against the spread (ATS) and 2-5 Over/Under (O/U) this season with the 35th-toughest schedule (according to USA TODAY’s Jeff Sagarin).
Ohio State true freshman QB C.J. Stroud has played his way into the Heisman Trophy conversation. Stroud leads the Big Ten in all major passing statistics. The Buckeyes are on a five-game winning streak (4-1 ATS) after losing to No. 7 Oregon Ducks at home 35-28 in Week 2. Ohio State is 4-2-1 ATS this season and has gone Over the total in five of those games.
The Nittany Lions are 1-6 overall vs. the Buckeyes, including a 38-25 victory last season, since hiring head coach James Franklin in 2014. But, Penn State covered in five of those meetings.
- Opening Line: Ohio State -15
- Current Line: Ohio State -18.5
- Total (Over/Under): 61
There’s been sharp line movement towards Ohio State with nearly 65% of the action at the time of publishing being on the Buckeyes, according to Pregame.com. Oddsmakers have reacted by making Ohio State 3.5 points more expensive compared to the opening number.
The total is even more lopsided in favor of the Over, which has nearly 90% money wagered on it. This one-way Over action has pushed the total up from the 58-point opener.
Head coach Ryan Day succeeded Urban Meyer at Ohio State in 2019. Since then, the Buckeyes are 13-6-1 ATS with a plus-8.4-point spread differential in Big Ten games, 8-6 ATS as a home favorite and 5-7 ATS vs. ranked teams. In the Franklin era, Penn State is 14-13 ATS vs. ranked competition, 32-32-2 ATS in conference play, and 5-6 ATS as a road underdog with a minus-4.7-point spread differential.
This might be a “plug your nose” spot but Penn State should do enough vs. Ohio State to cover as massive road underdogs.
First of all, the Nittany Lions have the lowest defensive predicted points added (PPA) in the Big Ten and the second-best defensive passer efficiency rating in the country. Penn State covered last season against a better Ohio State team that had a future first-round NFL draft pick at quarterback in Justin Fields.
Also, Nittany Lions QB Sean Clifford and WR Jahan Dotson played very well against the Buckeyes last year. For instance, Clifford threw for 281 yards with a 3 TD:1 INT ratio. Dotson caught eight of those balls for 144 yards and three TDs. Plus Penn State does a good job protecting Clifford; the Nittany Lions rank 21st in Havoc rate allowed.
Finally, this is a buy-low spot for Penn State and there are far more ways to cover as 18.5-point underdogs than as favorites. For instance, the market has to be low on the Nittany Lions after their embarrassing home loss to lowly Illinois. These are typically good bounce-back spots for quality, well-coached football programs.
Moreover, Ohio State hasn’t turned the ball over in the past four games while Penn State has the second-most takeaways in the conference. The bottom line is the Buckeyes are due for bad turnover luck and the Nittany Lions are a team that forces turnovers. And the backdoor is wide-open for an 18.5-point underdog as talented as Penn State.
PICK: Penn State +18.5 (-105 on DraftKings)
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