CFB betting cheat sheet: Can Penn State hang with Buckeyes?

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We are a couple days away from November, and perhaps the nation’s best team, led by Heisman Trophy betting favorite QB C.J. Stroud (-105), still has more questions than answers. Just how good are the No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes (+180), the national championship betting favorite?

The undefeated Buckeyes (-15.5, 60.5) visit the No. 13 Penn State Nittany Lions and can silence some critics in one of Saturday’s high-profile showdowns. Ohio State has dominated nearly all their games, but they have played only one road game. Plus, this will be the Buckeyes’ first opponent that is currently ranked.

“That’s the beauty of college football,” BetMGM vice president of trading Jason Scott told ESPN. “This stage of last season we thought they were good as well, and then Michigan demolished them. To the eye, Ohio State looks stronger, but the schedule has been soft.”

The Buckeyes feature elite weapons on offense, which ranks first in efficiency, and Stroud is the betting favorite (+180) to be drafted with the top overall pick. The defense is much better this season under new coordinator Jim Knowles, as it ranks sixth in efficiency. While those metrics are opponent-adjusted, the Nittany Lions should provide better context.

“It is the best guide so far but is unlikely to convince me, as Penn State is a few rungs below elite,” Scott said, also sharing that Ohio State would be an underdog to No. 1 Georgia on a neutral field but might be favored over No. 6 Alabama. The Buckeyes are championship favorites only because of what is perceived as an easier path to the College Football Playoff.

Ohio State is undoubtedly a very good team, but ever since losing 42-27 last year in its rivalry game, I am of the belief they lost their automatic deference when it comes to championship discussions. And although it occurred nearly two months ago, it’s hard to overlook the uninspiring win over Notre Dame. After all, they trailed at halftime at home to an Irish team that has since lost to Marshall and Stanford.

Scrutinizing a season opener is a little unfair. Plus, teams are allowed to improve. However, I also believe we are allowed to split hairs in these types of discussions. And frankly, the nature of college football forces us to connect dots.

I lean to Penn State and the points, but a one-sided Buckeyes victory would not surprise me. After all, the Nittany Lions were smoked by No. 5 Michigan, but I also believe their secondary, which features NFL prospects Joey Porter Jr. and Ji’Ayir Brown, can hold their own against Ohio State’s wideouts. I would prefer a night game in Happy Valley, but I will still roll the dice with the home ‘dog.

Favorite Plays

No. 17 Illinois Fighting Illini (-7.5, 50.5) at Nebraska Cornhuskers

At 6-1, Illinois deserves every bit of its national ranking. Bret Bielema has produced an impressive season and may win Big Ten Coach of the Year. However, laying this many points on the road is tough to accept, so I am backing a Nebraska squad that is playing much better since firing Scott Frost. While the defense is still an issue, I am unsure Illinois will completely exploit it. The Illini feature a strong strong game, but the passing attack leaves a lot to be desired. The Huskers own a competent offense, and I feel can generate some points against an Illinois defense that is somehow ranked fourth in the nation in efficiency.

Pick: Nebraska +7.5

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No. 8 Oregon Ducks (-17, 57.5) at California Golden Bears

The situation obviously screams for a flat performance from Oregon, coming off the big win over UCLA. However, I trust this Ducks squad more than I have in years past. Oregon is still very much alive in the CFP picture, and I believe they can keep it rolling, although there is always a chance that pressure proves otherwise. Bo Nix has been so impressive this season, leading an offense that ranks fourth in efficiency. I really like Justin Wilcox, and he has historically been great as a sizeable underdog, but the Bears just cannot seem to get it done this year. Even the defense is ranked below Oregon’s.

Pick: Oregon -17

Notre Dame Fighting Irish at No. 16 Syracuse Orange (-1.5, 47.5)

We always learn a lot about a team once it suffers its first loss. Sometimes we see teams barely show up the following week. That should not happen with Syracuse, given Notre Dame’s brand name. I expect the Orange and their 30th-ranked efficiency to score plenty of points, given this is not exactly a stout Irish defense. I also think the golden-domers have steadily improved offensively and should be able to hang enough points to get this over the total.

Pick: Over 47.5

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