Penn State and Pitt appear back-to-back in games on ABC Saturday afternoon, but one of the contests should be a lot more meaningful than the other — and substantially more interesting for football fans.
While the Nittany Lions are expected to have an easy time handling Ohio University in their home opener at noon, the online sportsbooks somewhat surprisingly make Pitt nearly a touchdown underdog at home at 3:30 p.m. against Tennessee, a team it beat last year.
Both Pennsylvania schools had exciting, prime-time wins on national TV to kick off the NCAA season on Sept. 1. While it would surprise no one if Penn State got to 2-0 in less stirring fashion, a win would be far more meaningful for the Panthers, who are ranked 17th and trying to prove their 11-win season last year was no one-time fluke.
Rematch of last September’s exciting game
Pitt’s 41-34 win over the Vols a year ago in Knoxville was an early-season indication that coach Pat Narduzzi’s team had a lot more potential than its predecessors from a succession of mediocre years. Now it needs to repeat that against a Tennessee team considered stronger a year later, with a dynamic offense led by quarterback Hendon Hooker, who was a replacement quarterback in that game due to the starter’s injury.
The Panthers needed a late pick-six interception against West Virginia last week to pull out a 38-31 win, while Tennessee manhandled Ball State by a 59-10 score.
Most of the sportsbooks list No. 24 Tennessee as a 6-point favorite despite Pitt’s higher ranking and the “Johnny Majors Classic ” — as it’s dubbed in honor of the former coach at both schools — being played at Acrisure Stadium. A Pitt backer could do even better Thursday in getting 6.5 points from sites that use Kambi odds, such as BetRivers, Unibet, and TwinSpires.
Most sites were offering something along the lines of 2/1 odds on Pitt’s moneyline, with a bettor on a Pitt win best off using the +205 posted by FOX Bet. The over/under is set as one of the highest on the NCAA’s slate this week, with the Kambi sites and BetMGM going all the way up to 67.5.
With both the point spread and the points total, the oddsmakers are looking at a Tennessee offense that has scored at least 45 points in four straight games. Hooker passed for 351 yards and two touchdowns against Ball State, while Tennessee’s running game was able to amass 218 yards.
Pitt’s defense should be tougher than that, but the Panthers could also be viewed as in for a potential letdown after a stirring win over a big rival. And though the return of experienced offensive and defensive lines was supposed to be a team strength, Pitt allowed West Virginia’s running game to explode and failed to offer good protection to transfer quarterback Kedon Slovis, whose 308 passing yards came under heavy pressure.
Win or lose for Pitt in this one, the best bet might be one on an exciting, high-scoring game similar to last year’s at Neyland Stadium.
PSU looks to avoid 2012-style upset
The biggest caution to Penn State and its fans about assuming an easy win over Ohio University is the last meeting that took place between the schools — a 24-14 victory by the Bobcats at Beaver Stadium in 2012. It was the last time the teams met, and the first time Ohio beat Penn State after five prior losses.
The oddsmakers certainly don’t see that happening again, as they mostly had Penn State favored by 25.5 points Thursday. A bettor on the Nittany Lions could do a little better by going to FanDuel or one of the Kambi sites like BetRivers and giving 24.5.
The idea of betting Penn State’s moneyline might strike some as preposterous, in that the best return showing up was the -2500 (risk $25 to win $1) from FOX Bet. Most sites pegged the over/under at 54, with FanDuel deviating at 53.5 (but priced at -115 to bet the over).
Nittany Lions fans will be expecting something less nail-biting than last week’s last-minute 35-31 win over Purdue on the last of Sean Clifford’s four TD passes. The bigger concern may be trying to get the running attack back on track, after it looked little better than last year’s weak ground game despite the additions of touted freshmen Nicholas Singleton and Keyvone Lee.
Ohio didn’t have quite the same caliber of opponent in its opener in besting Florida Atlantic 41-38. It did get plenty of offense, however, with junior quarterback Kurtis Rourke completing 27 of 34 passes for 345 yards and four TDs. Redshirt freshman Sieh Bangura also ran for 114 yards on 23 attempts out of the backfield.
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