Pennsylvania’s top two college football teams both get the spotlight on national TV ahead of most of their peers Thursday night, with another similarity being how many games they’re projected to win this year.
Most of the online sportsbooks have set regular season win totals at over/under 8.5 for both Penn State and Pitt, and they all agree the two schools should start out in that direction in their openers with wins over Purdue and West Virginia, respectively. Pitt, however, is favored by about a touchdown over the visiting Mountaineers, while the Nittany Lions are just about a field goal favorite on the road against the Boilermakers.
The Panthers will be looking to sustain the unexpected success they saw in 2021 when capturing their first ACC title, while James Franklin will try to have his team forget its disappointing finish in the Big Ten and Outback Bowl last year. Both schools have a few teams in front of them in odds to win their conferences, but with veteran quarterbacks and strong defenses, it’s not out of the question that they will be contenders.
It’s another story, however, for the Temple Owls, a road underdog Friday night at Duke and coming off a disastrous season. Penn Bets nonetheless guides sports bettors below to the best odds for its backers, as well as those of Penn State and Pitt.
Clifford + defense could = big wins
Penn State’s 2021 season started brightly but ended up as a mediocre 7-6 (4-5 Big Ten) campaign. The good news for Franklin in his ninth year is there’s a wealth of experienced talent back, including Sean Clifford in his fourth season as a starting quarterback.
While his favorite target, Jahan Dotson, is gone to the NFL, Clifford will be throwing to two skilled returning wide receivers (Parker Washington, KeAndre Lambert-Smith) and welcoming a newcomer in Mitchell Tinsley, a transfer who shined as a freshman at Western Kentucky with 87 catches and 14 TDs. Plus, all three tight ends return.
The running game could only be better than its weak performance a year ago, aided this fall by touted freshmen Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen.
Both the defensive line and secondary have the potential to be outstanding. Against Purdue, they need to be stout in standing up to the Boilermakers’ own longtime quarterback, Aidan O’Connell, who averaged 310 yards per game with 28 TDs last year. He doesn’t have as many weapons returning as Clifford, however.
Given all that, the oddsmakers listed the Nittany Lions as 3.5-point favorites across the board Thursday, with FOX Bet offering even money to take Penn State, making it the best option among the 14 sites for a PSU supporter.
The best moneyline price of -165 could be obtained from either DraftKings, PointsBet, Betfred, or Betway. The over/under was generally set at 53, with BetMGM, FOX Bet, PointsBet, and Betfred nudging it a little higher to 53.5.
The best payoff for a bettor believing Penn State could somehow overcome powerhouse Ohio State and others and win the Big Ten is the 16/1 offered by BetMGM. Many sites, meanwhile, offer the Lions at 100/1 to win the national championship.
While most sites list the over/under on regular season wins at 8.5, FanDuel stands alone in setting it at just 8, but it does so with a hefty vig of -150 to bet the over.
First Backyard Brawl in more than a decade
Pitt fans would be ecstatic for anything approaching the unexpected 11-win season of 2021, and they’re just as happy that instead of starting the season against some cupcake school, the Panthers will be able to participate in the first version of the Backyard Brawl rivalry since 2011.
Pitt and West Virginia, just 77 miles apart, played one another every year for most of the schools’ football histories, but the encounters disappeared when the Big East dissolved. Their first contest in years is a reversal of sorts, in that WVU was perceived as the stronger program earlier this century.
While much of Pitt’s success last year came from the arm of Kenny Pickett — who will continue playing on Pittsburgh’s North Side this year, only for the Steelers — eighth-year coach Pat Narduzzi succeeded quite well in landing USC transfer Kedon Slovis as Pickett’s replacement.
Slovis threw for 58 TDs in 27 games for during his Trojan career. He’ll have an experienced offensive line returning, which is true of the defensive line and secondary as well, as the Panthers returning 14 starters from last year’s successful team. It means the team should at least be good, even if not projected to match last year’s success.
West Virginia has just nine starters back from a six-win team, and will be relying at quarterback on Georgia transfer JT Daniels, who ironically was the starter at USC in 2019 whose injury let Slovis step in and shine.
All of the sportsbooks listed the Panthers Thursday as 7.5-point favorites over the Mountaineers. The best moneyline price for Pitt was the -300 from FanDuel, DraftKings, BetMGM, and Betway. The over/under was set as low as 51.5 by BetMGM and as high as 52.5 by DraftKings, FOX Bet, and the Kambi-backed sites such as BetRivers, Unibet, and TwinSpires.
Those sites using Kambi odds, which also include betParx and Barstool, would be the best place for a bet on the Panthers to surprise Clemson fans again and repeat as ACC champions, at 12/1. They’re as high as 250/1 (FanDuel) to win the national title.
While Pitt’s regular-season wins over/under is generally 8.5., several sites drop it to 7.5 with a hefty vig on the over, with FOX Bet at -167 being the best option for that.
Temple has a low bar to clear
There’s not a lot to say for Temple after it dropped its last seven games last year to finish 3-9, but the Owls have a new coach in Stan Drayton and a returning dual-threat quarterback in D’Wan Mathis, whom Drayton reportedly talked out of transferring in the offseason.
The Owls open in Durham against another school that had big difficulties in losing its last eight games last year, but Temple was still a 7-point underdog to Duke at most sites Thursday. The best moneyline return for an upset would be the +235 from FanDuel. FanDuel was also among the sportsbooks with the highest points total, at 51.5, while BetMGM was an outlier going with just 50.5.
Those interested in a futures bet on the Owls’ win total have the option of using 2.5 with a heavy vig on the over (DraftKings and Betway being best at -140) or 3 with a plus price on the over (best option: +120 from FOX Bet).
Photo: Dan Rainville/York Daily Record