Penn State Nittany Lions
Penn State is on an upward trend, having once again become relevant in College Football, at least for good reasons. The high-powered offense and talented defense helped Penn State achieve an 11-2 overall record, 7-2 in the Big Ten, and 8-4-1 against the spread. Six players were lost to the NFL Draft, including 2nd overall pick Saquon Barkley, but the team still possesses capable players who should continue to keep the program relevant. Overall, we expect a slight step backward, but overall will be competitive.
The offense is led by Senior Quarterback Trave McSorley who led the Big Ten in passing with over 3,500 yards. He had 28 passing touchdowns and 11 rushing touchdowns against 10 interceptions. He will again be a force in the Big Ten. Although Barkley is gone and leading receiver DaeSean Hamilton, he returns with Juwan Johnson who caught 54 balls last season and is a pro prospect and Senior Deandre Thompkins who caught 28 balls last season. McSorley will unfortunately miss end zone threat Tight End Mike Gesicki, who was a second round NFL draft pick. Overall the offense will take a step backward, but not to such a degree that we expect anything less than 9 wins.
The defense returns only 3 starters, but has young talent to step in, including two five-star interior defender recruits. Also bear in mind for the last few years, Penn State has again become a consistent top 25 recruiting school. There may be some growing pains and we will look at early season overs in several of Penn State’s games. However, as the season goes on, improvement will be expected.
The total season wins over/under for Penn State is 9.5 and the odds to win the Big Ten are +380. We think these lines are spot on and do not advocate a play on either. If the defense struggles early on, Penn State could end up landing on 9 wins, but if the talent overcomes the inexperience, they could be in the Big Ten title hunt. Things could go either way, we will not take a position.
Week #1 opens with a home game against Appalachian State of the Sun Belt Conference. Appalachian State often takes on major programs early in the season, having played Michigan, Clemson, Miami and Georgia over the last four seasons. The program is usually losing these affairs by around 30 points. The uncertainty on the defensive side of the ball for the Nittany Lions is a bit offset by Appalachian State replacing last year’s starting quarterback. The early line is Penn State -24 and we think the line is about right.
Week #2 is a road game against in-state rival Pitt. Pitt is a decent program who played Penn State very tough two years ago at home winning by 3. Last season at State College Penn State won by 19, while laying 21. With the offensive losses and defensive uncertainty early on, we anticipate Penn State will win this game in the 10-14 point range. We will issue a pick once the Week 2 lines are published.
Week #3 is a home game against Kent State of the Mid American Conference. Kent State is a program going through hard times and has not won more than three games in the last four seasons. Last season’s 2-10 record was abysmal and even an easy contest against Howard where Kent State was favored by 27 resulted only in a 7 point win. This game will be a blowout by 5 touchdowns, so keep an eye on the published lines when we reach Week #3.
Week #4 kicks off the Big Ten schedule with a road game on a Friday night against Illinois. Illinois is consistently at the bottom of the Big Ten and we do not anticipate significant improvement this season. They were 2-10 overall and winless in the Big Ten. Again, we expect Penn State to roll and win by north of four touchdowns.
Week #5 will be the biggest game of the year for the Nittany Lions. Ohio State is consistently the most dominant
team in the conference and this year will be no different. The last two matchups have been close. In 2016 Penn State won at home by 3 points while being 19 point underdogs. Last season as six point underdogs on the road, Penn State was defeated by 1. That being said, we think the small dropoff this season due to the inexperienced defense and high level skill position players graduating suggests Ohio State will have a bit of an edge. We are looking at Ohio State to cover the number in this spot, which will likely be lower than it should be due to the recent history. A touchdown or less line will likely result in us making a big play on the Buckeyes.
That concludes the September preview for the Penn State Nittany Lions. We will be back at the end of the month for a recap and preview of the rest of the Big Ten Schedule.