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  • Penn State is 4-0 despite hiccups against Appalachian State and Illinois, but the Nittany Lions will be locked in when Ohio State visits on Saturday night. Should you take Penn State as a home underdog?
By Sam Chase
September 25, 2018

Ohio State at Penn State (+3.5)

Sat. 9/29, 7:30 p.m. ET

Three things you need to know before betting on Ohio State-Penn State:

1. James Franklin hasn't been a home underdog often since becoming the head coach of the Nittany Lions in 2014. His Penn State teams are 2-3 straight up when getting points at Beaver Stadium (3-2 against the spread). But the Nittany Lions are 2-0 in their last two games as home dogs. The most recent instance was in October 2016 against, guess who, Ohio State, when the Nittany Lions entered as 17.5-point underdogs but emerged with a 24-21 win, outscoring OSU 17-0 in the fourth quarter and taking the lead with 4:27 remaining on a blocked field goal that was returned for a touchdown.

This year's edition of PSU-OSU doesn't present the opportunity for such a dramatic upset. Both teams are among the country's best, which is reflected in the spread. No. 4 Ohio State opened as a four-point favorite, before early action on No. 9 Penn State lowered the line to OSU -3.5.

That puts the Nittany Lions in line with some compelling betting systems. Since the beginning of the 2014 season:

  • Underdogs of 3.5 to 10 points that have scored at least 42 points in two consecutive games are 40-11 against the spread (78.4%).
  • Underdogs of 3.5 to 10 points that outgained opponents by 125+ yards per game on the season, coming off a game in which they gained at least 475 total yards, are 38-11 against the spread (77.6%).

Simply put, underdogs with strong offenses have delivered big-time for bettors.

2. Of course, Ohio State has an incredible offense, too. Quarterback Dwayne Haskins has been extremely impressive in his first four career starts, averaging 10.4 yards per attempt and ranking second in the nation with 16 touchdown passes—all while only throwing a single interception. Wideouts Parris Campbell and K.J. Hill are very explosive and very reliable, respectively, and the tailback duo of J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber appears to be at full strength after an injury that knocked Weber out of last week's win over Tulane turned out to be a minor sprain.

The Buckeyes are third in the nation in total offense, and it's hard to imagine them being dramatically slowed down by a Penn State defense that has struggled against inferior opponents at times. In their season opener, the Nittany Lions allowed 28 points in the fourth quarter to Appalachian State, which Penn State needed overtime to win. Against a subpar Illinois team last week, Penn State allowed 245 rushing yards.

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But Franklin's defense figures to make significant strides from week-to-week this season. Penn State returned only three defensive starters from last year's Fiesta Bowl-winning squad, but has brought in some of the nation's best recruits in recent years. As guys get more snaps, they'll improve quickly. And lots of guys are getting snaps for PSU. On one drive in the first quarter against Illinois, Franklin fielded a defensive unit that consisted of nine backups and two starters. He consistently swapped players in and out mainly for the purpose of getting guys reps. This defense still has plenty to prove, but it is on its way to becoming more dependable.

3. Penn State's offense is just as star-studded as OSU's. QB Trace McSorley hasn't overwhelmed statistically in the early going this year, but he is a consistent threat with the deep ball and an underrated runner. Junior running back Miles Sanders has proven to be a worthy replacement for Saquon Barkley in the backfield. After racking up 200 yards on the ground against the Illini, Sanders is sixth in the nation with 495 rushing yards on 71 carries.

Ohio State's defense should be worried going into a matchup against a Penn State offense that scored 42 straight points in the second half last week. In its lone encounter with high-level competition this season, OSU allowed 511 total yards in a 40-28 win over TCU. The biggest concern for Ohio State is that Nick Bosa won't be in the lineup. Ohio State's all-everything defensive end suffered an abdominal injury against TCU, and underwent surgery last week that will keep him out of action until at least mid-November. Regarded by many as the best player in all of college football, the impact of Bosa's absence can't be overstated in one of the biggest games of the year.

Pick: Penn State +3.5

Confidence Level: Very High (on a scale of Low/Moderate/High/Very High/Extremely High)

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