The game of the year in the Big Ten takes place on Saturday when the No. 8 Penn State Nittany Lions visit the No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes. These are the top two teams in the Big Ten’s East Division, with Penn State suffering the only loss between the two of them, which is why Ohio State sits atop the division and can clinch a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game with a win.
Ohio State has been dominant all season long, winning by an average of 41.7 points and never really being challenged for an entire game, including last week’s 56-21 win over Rutgers. Penn State has had a more difficult couple of weeks coming into this one, with a loss at Minnesota two weeks ago, followed by last week’s 34-27 win over Indiana.
The money line for this contest has the Penn State Nittany Lions +850 and the Ohio State Buckeyes -1500. Ohio State is favored by 19.5 points at home, while the over/under on the game has been set at 58.
Imagine being the No. 8 team in the country, and being nearly a three-touchdown underdog. That’s certainly being played up by Penn State coach James Franklin for this game. So is the fact Penn State can all but wrap up its second trip to the Big Ten Championship Game with a win in this one, as the Nittany Lions would only have to beat Rutgers next week to win the division. Throw in that a win over Ohio State could set the Nittany Lions up to a road to the College Football Playoff, and there’s plenty of motivation for Penn State in this one.
Now the question is doing it, and part of that is not letting Ohio State get out to a lead early. Quarterback Sean Clifford must be better than he was in his last matchup against an undefeated opponent when he threw three interceptions in the loss to Minnesota two weeks ago. He’s actually thrown for more yards than Ohio State’s Justin Fields (2,450 to 2,164) to go with 22 touchdowns. But he needs his best weapons in this one, including wide receiver KJ Hamler (46 catches, 791 yards, eight touchdowns), who left last week’s game and whose status is uncertain for this one. Running back Noah Cain (350 yards, six TDs, 5.1 yards per carry) may be available for this one after sitting out the Lions’ last two contests.
The Buckeyes have been rolling all season long, and now they get possibly the best defensive player in the country back with a chip on his shoulder. Defensive end Chase Young (13.5 sacks, five forced fumbles) is back after a two-game suspension and ready to make his mark on this one. Ohio State allows an average of 9.8 points and 216.4 yards per game, so the defense is obviously more than Young, but he is a difference-maker.
Offensively, the Buckeyes have two ways to beat you. Fields can go to the air — where he has 31 touchdowns and just one interception — or he can hand it to J.K. Dobbins, who has rushed for 1,289 yards and 13 touchdowns. Two of the better defensive teams in the Big Ten — Michigan State and Wisconsin — are the only two to keep the Buckeyes under 40 points in a game, but they both allowed at least 34. Dobbins has been off a bit the last two weeks, only averaging 89.5 yards in two blowouts. On a cold day in Columbus, he should see the ball a lot in this one.
Buckeyes Win, But Can They Cover?
Ohio State looks like a team that won’t be stopped until the College Football Playoff — and it might not be stopped then either. Penn State is a very good team, but this collection of players for the Buckeyes is just too difficult to hold down offensively. I think the Nittany Lions make it interesting for a while, but Ohio State is winning this one. Bet the Nittany Lions to cover the large spread, while Ohio State wins.