A bruised Penn State team returns to play Saturday as a heavy favorite after its only loss, while Pitt is favored to capture that program’s biggest statement win in years and Temple is a small underdog facing the only team it beat last year.
All three Pennsylvania teams are back in action this week after Penn State and Temple both had bye weeks and Pitt nudged its way back into national rankings (AP No. 23) with a decisive win at Virginia Tech.
No. 7 Penn State still has big ambitions that are unlikely to be deterred by a visit from Illinois, according to the odds from the 13 legal online sportsbooks in Pennsylvania.
Pitt has long played second fiddle to the Nittany Lions when it comes to NCAA football in the state, but a win over Clemson at Heinz Field — especially while nationally televised on ESPN — would propel the Panthers into a lot more conversations.
For Temple, a visit to Tampa Saturday night to play South Florida gives the Owls a decent opportunity to get over .500 both on the season as a whole and in the American Athletic Conference, which would be a nice achievement after a difficult 2020 season.
Banged-up PSU sees Illini at the right time
A visit from the Illinois Fighting Illini (2-5, 1-3), who haven’t been fighting many teams too hard this year, seems like a nice tonic on top of the bye week for the Nittany Lions to recover from their stinging 23-20 loss to Iowa on Oct. 9.
Penn State (5-1, 2-1) is as much as a 24-point favorite (DraftKings) for the noon game being celebrated as the Lions’ homecoming contest, though a PSU bettor would be better off using the 23-point spread being offered Thursday morning by BetRivers, Unibet, TwinSpires, and other sites using Kambi odds.
There’s not much money to be made off a moneyline wager on Penn State to win. The best return being offered is -2000 from either FOX Bet or Betway.
The over/under on the game is generally set at 46.5, although an “over” bettor could also go to Betway to bet it at 45.5 with extra vig at -120.
The points total would presumably be set higher if there were any certainty that Lions quarterback Sean Clifford would be recovered from an injury against Iowa and able to play, but coach James Franklin hasn’t clarified that one way or another.
Penn State was leading Iowa by two touchdowns when Clifford left the game with his unspecified injury, but the offense faltered afterward under backup Ta’Quan Roberson, who threw two interceptions against one of the NCAA’s toughest defenses.
Penn State has also suffered injuries at running back and on the defensive line, making Illinois a welcome visitor before the schedule gets tougher with a visit to Ohio State Oct. 30. The Illini’s lone Big Ten win was their opener against Nebraska, and since then they’ve scored a total of 26 points in losing to Maryland, Purdue, and Wisconsin. That last loss came against the Badgers, 24-0, before Illinois also took a week off.
Clemson is rare underdog in its Pitt visit
Pitt’s 3:30 p.m. battle with Clemson has an entirely different pregame buildup from what would be typical, considering the Tigers have won six straight ACC titles and trounced Pitt by a combined 94-27 in their last two meetings.
The high-powered Panthers (5-1, 2-0), led by veteran quarterback Kenny Pickett, are favored by 3 to 3.5 points over defensive-minded Clemson (4-2, 3-1). A Pitt backer could either use the 3-point spread offered by the Kambi sites and DraftKings, Betfred, and Betway, or else consider going with the -3.5 at FanDuel due to the +104 vig it offers for that. Either way, it is the first time Clemson has been a regular season underdog against anyone in five years.
The Kambi-backed sportsbooks offer the best moneyline return for a Pitt bet at -159, with BetMGM close behind at -160.
Though Pitt all by itself is averaging 48.3 points per game, third best in the nation, the total points over/under is set no higher than 48, and FanDuel and Kambi put it even lower at 47.5.
That modest over/under comes because Pitt’s offense, good as it may be, hasn’t been playing against defenses like Clemson’s. While it’s a down year overall for the unranked Tigers, their defense has allowed just 12.5 points per game, second best nationally. It held top-ranked Georgia to just 10 points in a low-scoring loss to open the season, and the Bulldogs average 43 points against everyone else.
Of course, the Clemson offense has been almost as bad as the defense is good, explaining an unexpectedly difficult season where the Tigers currently stand behind Wake Forest and North Carolina State in the ACC Atlantic Division.
Pitt has now emerged as the oddsmakers’ favorite to win its first ACC championship (+110 from FanDuel and +130 from DraftKings) while Clemson’s odds are next shortest. Since they are in different divisions, it’s possible the two teams could meet again in the December title game in Charlotte, N.C., but the Tigers would almost certainly have to beat Pitt to keep alive their prospects of jumping ahead of both Wake Forest and NC State.
Temple looks for a nice rebound
Temple (3-3, 1-1) lost to Cincinnati 52-3 in the Owls’ last game on Oct. 8, but they’re now many days removed from that blowout at the hands of a team now ranked No. 2 nationally.
Visiting a South Florida team (1-5, 0-2) that suffered a 32-31 disappointment against Tulsa last week gives the Owls a chance to make this 2021 season look a lot more respectable.
Last year, Temple defeated the Bulls 39-37 in Philadelphia, and South Florida still hasn’t beaten a Division 1-A opponent either last season or this one. The Bulls’ lone win this year came versus Florida A&M, though they’ve played a rather difficult schedule, including non-conference losses to North Carolina State, Florida, and BYU.
As a sign the two teams are considered fairly evenly matched, Temple is a 2.5-point road underdog at every book with the exception of FOX Bet, which spots the Owls just 2 points.
The best moneyline return for a Temple victory is the +115 offered by DraftKings, Caesars, and Betway.
The over/under is set at either 55 or 55.5 by the various sites.
Photo: Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen