College Football Game of the Week: Michigan at Penn State

Two of the best teams in the Big Ten East will be featured on College Gameday’s premier game of Week 8. The Penn State Nittany Lions will host the Michigan Wolverines and look to keep a recent tradition between these two rivals alive. The last three games in this series have been blowouts with the home team winning by an average of five touchdowns.

MICHIGAN WOLVERINES AT PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS
CFB ODDS: PENN STATE -9
CFB TOTAL: 45.5

When the preliminary college football betting odds were released for this game back in the summer, Michigan was -4 against Penn State in Happy Valley. If you happened to get the Nittany Lions and four points, you are sitting pretty right now after a line swing of nearly two touchdowns. When the Week 8 opening odds were released on Sunday evening, this line was 7.5 points, but it has since risen to nine. The total has dropped from 46.5 at open to 45.

RECENT HISTORY

Penn State crushed Michigan 42-13 the last time these teams squared off in Happy Valley, as Saquon Barkley ran for two touchdowns in the first five minutes against the Wolverines. The Wolverines returned the favor in Ann Arbor last season, crushing the Nittany Lions 42-7 as Trace McSorley posted one of the worst games of his career.

WHEN PENN STATE HAS THE BALL

The Nittany Lions had some major questions on both sides of the ball coming into the season, but the questions were more pronounced on offense. Penn State had lost McSorley, Barkley, and Miles Sanders in the last two seasons, so there were plenty of fresh faces in the backfield. Those worries have proven to be unfounded though as this offense is rated No. 10 in the country per SP+.

Sophomore quarterback Sean Clifford has had a great season. He led the Nittany Lions to blowout wins over Purdue and Maryland, and he didn’t get flustered despite subpar performances against great defenses in Iowa and Pittsburgh. Clifford didn’t turn the ball over, allowing Penn State to stay undefeated and a threat to win it all per the national championship betting odds.

Clifford is averaging 9.8 YPA this season, and his ability to hit the deep ball has kept opposing defenses from gearing up to stop the run. Penn State is averaging 4.8 YPC this season.

Michigan has one of the stingiest defenses in college football. The Wolverines will be out to prove themselves once more after an embarrassing performance against Wisconsin a weeks ago, but the unit has been excellent since that defeat. They shut out Rutgers in their next game, only allowed Iowa to score three points two weeks ago, and Penn State made Illinois’ offense totally one-dimensional last week. Defensive coordinator Don Brown is one of the best in the game.

WHEN MICHIGAN HAS THE BALL

There is clearly a disconnect between Shea Patterson and Jim Harbaugh. Patterson was expected to shine this year, and Michigan was a favorite pick by many to finally win the Big Ten back in the summer. They had the lowest odds to win the national championship of any team in the conference, but those odds are now up to 66-1 given their performance through the first half of the season.

Patterson is completing just 57.1 percent of his passes and averaging 7.7 YPA on the season. Harbaugh has pulled him a few times, but neither Joe Milton nor Dylan McCaffrey have fared any better, and both quarterbacks have completed less than 50 percent of their passes in limited action. Patterson is not stretching the field as often as he did at Ole Miss, so defenses are crowding the line and shrinking the available area.

That has had an adverse effect on the run game too. Michigan is averaging just 4.1 YPC this year, and Zach Charbonnet has been largely held in check.

Penn State’s defense will ensure Michigan’s run game doesn’t get going. The Nittany Lions have surrendered just 1.8 yards per run this season, the best average in the country. Penn State is conceding only 3.8 yards per play, so Michigan will have to prove it can string together long drives in order to pull off the upset. That has yet to happen in 2019.

PREDICTION

There is no real value in the total at this price, but Penn State is a good bet until the line moves to 10. Michigan has yet to prove anything, and this game could be a blowout.

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