No offense to anyone trying to score points for Pennsylvania’s major collegiate football teams, but it’s defense that got the three of them into bowl games this week and provides the best chance to cap their seasons positively.
Pitt plays Eastern Michigan in the Quick Lane Bowl Thursday night, Temple meets North Carolina in the Military Bowl Friday afternoon, and Penn State kicks off a busy slate of bowl games Saturday by taking on Memphis in the Cotton Bowl.
Pitt and Penn State are favored and Temple is an underdog, though the Owls finished their season with stronger momentum going into the postseason. Temple is no different from its Keystone State counterparts, however, in relying on a stouter defense than offense.
Betting sites mostly agree on odds
The eight online sports betting sites in the state were similar in how they viewed the contests as of Monday morning, with all making Penn State a 7-point favorite and Temple an underdog by 4.5.
The sportsbooks had not listed any special odds boosts or betting promotions for the games as of the start of the week, but it’s worth checking for those the day of the game to see what might have been added.
Here’s a rundown on the matchups involving the state’s teams:
Quick Lane Bowl, Pitt vs. Eastern Michigan
The Panthers (7-5) had hopes for something more impressive at year’s end than this Detroit trip, but they sabotaged themselves by finishing with a 28-0 loss to Virginia Tech and a 26-19 upset at home at the hands of Boston College.
It is the 11th bowl trip in 12 seasons for Pitt, but that stat is less impressive when it’s noted that the school has lost its last four of those and six of the past seven.
Its best chance comes from a swarming, sack-happy defense that held opponents to 21.8 points per game. (Pitt’s offense averaged 20.1 after scoring just those 19 points in the final two ACC contests.)
Eastern Michigan (6-6) was only 3-5 in the Mid-American Conference, but the Eagles won two of their last three games while averaging nearly 38 ppg in those contests. Quarterback Mike Glass III led the MAC in passing yards as the team averaged 29.1 ppg overall, while giving up 30.3.
So it’s a classic offense vs. defense matchup, with a footnote that Pitt has often had more trouble than one might expect with MAC squads. The Panthers only beat Ohio University 20-10 this year and lost to Akron in 2014. Their last bowl victory was against a MAC team, Bowling Green, but by just a 30-27 margin in the 2013 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, which was also at Ford Field.
Favored Pitt is presently -400 to -450 on the moneyline, with the over/under at 49.
Military Bowl, Temple vs. North Carolina
The Owls (8-4) won three of their last four games to enable a visit to Annapolis for the school’s fifth straight bowl appearance.
In those last four games, they allowed just 15 ppg (23.5 overall on the season). The defense features the American Athletic Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year in end Quincy Roche, and two of his defensive teammates also made the conference first team. Temple was third in the nation in red zone defense.
The Owls face a reinvigorated North Carolina program (6-6) coming off of two nine-loss seasons to seek its first bowl victory since 2013. The Tar Heels lost by just a point to Clemson and are led on the field by quarterback Sam Howell, ranked 25th in the nation in passing.
There is one distinctive difference on the sidelines: UNC coach Mack Brown has 13 bowl victories in a long career while Owls coach Rod Carey is winless in the postseason, having gone 0-6 at Northern Illinois.
Temple is +155 to +170 on the moneyline, with the over/under at 53.
Cotton Bowl, Penn State vs. Memphis
The Nittany Lions (10-2) harbored hopes when still undefeated in early November of slotting into the College Football Playoff picture, but losses at Minnesota and Ohio State in their final four games spoiled those dreams.
Still, 10th-ranked Penn State will be out to uphold its power conference pride against the AAC champion Tigers. An ordinary offense hurt it in the two late-season losses, but the defense is as awesome as ever, limiting opponents to 14.1 ppg, seventh best in the nation. The Lions’ defense was the only one to limit Ohio State’s powerful attack to fewer than 30 points.
Memphis (12-1) is ranked No. 17 after completing the best regular season in school history — its one loss was 30-28 to Temple. The Tigers’ 40.5 ppg were eighth best in the nation, and the offense averages 480 yards per game behind quarterback Brady White.
Memphis has lost four straight bowl games, however, and will be without head coach Mike Norvell, who has left to take the job at Florida State.
Penn State’s bowl record has been nothing sensational itself under James Franklin, currently 2-3 in bowls since arriving in State College. A victory in Arlington would certainly help make up for the sting of a disappointing November.
Penn State is -250 to -260 on the moneyline, with the over/under at 59.5 to 60.5.
Photo by Matthew O’Haren / USA Today Sports