Penn State and Pitt will both be underdogs when their bowl games kick off against Pac-12 foes over the next few days, with the Nittany Lions given a bit better chance than the Panthers of closing the season on a high note.
Pennsylvania’s online sportsbooks generally have Penn State as a 2.5-point underdog against Utah in the Rose Bowl next Monday, while bettors are getting 5.5 to 6 points to take Pitt in its Sun Bowl contest Friday with UCLA. That Penn State-Utah spread has been pretty consistent since the Rose Bowl pairing was announced weeks ago, while the Pitt-UCLA margin is tighter than when the opening line was issued.
Coaches James Franklin of Penn State and Pat Narduzzi at Pitt are both below .500 in bowl game appearances with the programs, although they both led their teams to 4-0 records in November.
The points total in both games — in the low 50s as the over/under — is modest compared to many of the bowl games remaining on the NCAA slate over the next week.
PSU seeks season’s signature win
Penn State finished the season 10-2 and placed 11th in the final College Football Playoff rankings, while Utah finished 10-3 and ranked No. 8 after beating USC 47-24 in the Pac-12 Championship Game. It was Utah’s second win of the season over the touted Trojans.
While the Nittany Lions finished with as many wins as the Utes, they had no victories over teams finishing high in the CFP rankings. Penn State also gave up a combined 85 points to Michigan and Ohio State in failing to come close to beating either of those CFP national title semifinalists.
The oddsmakers all say Penn State is a 2.5-point underdog for the game played in Pasadena, California, at 5 p.m. ET Monday, but there is some variability in moneyline pricing. A Penn State backer would do best using the +115 offered for a PSU win by PointsBet, Caesars Sportsbook, or Wind Creek/Betfred.
The points total of 52.5 also appears consistent among the books.
While it has become common for NCAA teams to lose many top players for their bowl games due to opt-outs to prepare for the NFL Draft, that does not appear to be the case for the Rose Bowl. Penn State cornerback Joey Porter Jr. is the one key player to have announced he won’t be playing.
Penn State TE Brenton Strange announced he will forgo his senior season and declare for the NFL Draft.
He will still play in the Rose Bowl. https://t.co/qlbOSjEtfE
— Spencer Ripchik (@RipchikSpencer) December 28, 2022
Penn State will have Sean Clifford making the uncommonly high 47th start of his college career as a Lion, but the offense is just as likely to depend on the ability of freshman running backs Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen to continue their regular-season success.
Like Penn State, Utah was among the NCAA’s leaders in a number of statistical categories, both offensively and defensively. Both teams piled up far more points and yards than they allowed, and both had a plus-8 turnover margin.
Utah’s offense runs through dynamic quarterback Cam Rising, who was the Pac-12 title game’s MVP and threw 24 TD passes against two interceptions in the Utes’ wins this year. He also rushed for over 400 yards and six TDs.
Panthers missing eight starters
While Pitt is less of an underdog now than it was in early December, the curious thing is that it is known to be missing many more key players for the 2 p.m. ET Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, than will UCLA.
Among eight Panthers starters expected to miss the game are ACC Defensive Player of the Year Calijah Kancey (injury), ACC leading rusher Israel Abanikanda (opt-out), and quarterback Kedon Slovis (transfer). Meanwhile, UCLA’s top offensive stars — quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson and running back Zach Charbonnet — have been practicing and giving every indication they will play.
— Tribune-ReviewSports (@TribSports) December 27, 2022
That likely explains why while the point spread narrowed to fewer than 4 points at some sites this month, it widened again to now stand at 5.5 at most. However, Caesars, Barstool Sportsbook, BetRivers, betPARX, and Unibet were offering a more advantageous 6 points to Pitt bettors Tuesday.
Without Slovis, Narduzzi is expected to insert at quarterback seldom-used fifth-year senior Nick Patti, who was in the same role replacing Kenny Pickett in the Peach Bowl a year ago, only to exit early with a broken collarbone. The running back reserves to replace Abanikanda — Rodney Hammond Jr. and Vincent Davis — have more experience and have demonstrated flashes of brilliance when given the chance.
Pitt’s defense will be missing five starters, however, and thus could be challenged in stopping Dorian-Thompson, who completed nearly 70% of his passes for 2,883 yards and 25 TDs, and Charbonnet, who ran for 1,359 yards and 14 TDs. The Bruins were among the NCAA’s top offenses with 503.8 yards per game.
While the Panthers reeled off wins in their last four games to get to 8-4, the Bruins won their first six but went only 3-3 down the stretch to finish 9-3.
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