Everybody knows that one of the best parts of being a sports fan is debating and dissecting the most (and least) important questions in the sporting world with your friends. So, we’re bringing that to the pages of LGHL with our favorite head-to-head column: You’re Nuts.
In You’re Nuts, two LGHL staff members will take differing sides of one question and argue their opinions passionately. Then, in the end, it’s up to you to determine who’s right and who’s nuts.
This week’s topic: If you were setting the spread for Ohio State vs. Penn State, what would it be?
Ohio State welcomes Penn State to The Shoe this weekend, and whoooo boy, is Saturday’s unfortunate nooner (should be a nighttime kickoff) shaping up to be a big one. No. 3 vs. No. 7 in the AP poll. Two undefeated powerhouses. Big Ten and College Football Playoff implications on the line... Gene, I already have pit sweat and a burning ulcer. That’s how important this game feels.
The stakes are obviously high, as was the case last year when OSU traveled to Happy Valley. That 2022 version pitted No. 4 vs. No. 8, although the Nittany Lions were not undefeated at the time. So this is nothing new for fans of both teams. However, as entertaining and competitive as this game is and/or tends to be, the result has often been the same... At least it has been for the past few decades.
The Buckeyes have won the last six in this ‘rivalry’ and 16 of 20 dating back to 2003. Yet I never feel fully confident as one of these games approaches. Call it pessimism or poor fandom. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s the fact that Penn State is usually ranked and has a bunch of good football players. I don’t know, the latter seems fairly relevant.
Anyway, this is where Gene and I should start to debate the most important player matchup(s) or which quarterback needs to have the better game for their team, right? Top-notch football/sports talk is the reason we’re all here, is it not?
But here’s the thing: My You’re Nuts writing partner and I also have other interests pertaining to this game. They are of the dollars and cents variety. I’m talking about laying down a few responsible wagers and/or building a few longshot parlays. So we decided to look at this weekend’s big game from a gambler’s point of view.
And the debate/question we talked about and came up with was: What should the spread be for Ohio State vs. Penn State? Did the sportsbooks nail this one? Or do these two schmucks know more than the industry?
Well, the saying goes that “Vegas knows” (masterful wordplay). And depending on where you look, Vegas – and/or the gaming industry at large – has this game right in what Bill Simmons calls the ‘Vegas zone’. Which is 4.5 to 5.5 points, indicating that OSU is perceived to be markedly better than PSU, but not so much better that the Buckeyes should be laying a touchdown... Basically, the industry is stuck between a field goal and a touchdown, causing them to split the difference.
So do I agree with most of the books, at roughly five points? No, I certainly do not. Here’s why:
Saturday’s game, on paper, seems like an evenly matched one. Like, super-duper evenly matched! And when that is the case, you go pick ‘em... If said game is being played at a neutral site. However, since this one is being played in Columbus, Ohio State should automatically be getting a three-point bump or three points ‘in their favor’. Three points at home is a quasi-rule of thumb unless the home team and/or venue stinks. But such is not the case for OSU and Ohio Stadium.
Add in the fact that Penn State has won 11-straight since their loss to the Buckeyes last season – and is beating teams by 1,000 in 2023 – and I don’t understand why PSU would or should be anything more than a three-point dog. So that is more or less what I am going with, Gene. I think Vegas missed on this one.
I have Ohio State -2.5, if you want to come and place a bet at my sportsbook. Which may or may not be a couch, a nice TV, and a mini fridge in my basement. Not to get weird.
But I will gladly take a real result of OSU just winning the damn game. I don’t care if it by 1 or 1,000, please just give me a win. Go Bucks!
When looking to set the betting line for this game, I’m going to be taking the position by position approach, comparing the two teams and seeing who has the advantage in different parts of the game.
On the Ohio State side of things, the Buckeyes have a clear advantage at wide receiver. It helps when you have the country’s top wideout in Marvin Harrison Jr. on your team, but add to the mix a — hopefully — healthy Emeka Egbuka, Julian Fleming, Cade Stover as well as a handful of young guys itching to make an impact among the likes of Carnell Tate and Brandon Inniss, and Penn State can’t nearly match that sort of firepower. Keandre Lambert-Smith is a good receiver, but he is the only Nittany Lion with over 200 yards on the season.
At the quarterback position, I think it's somewhat of a toss-up. Both Drew Allar and Kyle McCord came to their expected schools as highly-touted five-star recruits, with McCord being the No. 6 QB and No. 28 overall player in 2021 and Allar the No. 4 QB and No. 32 overall player in 2022. Allar had the added bonus this season of not starting the year in a position battle, but the two QBs have very similar numbers. McCord has thrown for 1,651 yards with 11 TDs and 1 INT, completing 64.1 percent of his passes, while Allar has thrown for 1,254 yards with 12 TDs and 0 INTs, completing 65.2 percent of his throws. Allar probably has a bit higher upside, but this one is largely a coin flip.
Penn State likely has the upper hand at running back, but if Ohio State is healthy they can give that group a run for its money. Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen are one of the best RB tandems in the country, combining for 737 yards (4.4 YPC) and nine TDs. The Buckeyes’ top two guys in TreVeyon Henderson and Chip Trayanum have combined for 530 yards (5.6 YPC) and eight TDs, despite Henderson missing two games. Henderson has the best average yards per carry of the four at 6.7. While the Nittany Lions on paper have a better duo, I’m making this a coin flip again, especially if you loop in Dallan Hayden for Ohio State.
Where Ohio State runs into trouble is in the trenches. The old adage says that games are won and lost in the trenches, and the Buckeyes have had issues on both sides of the line this season. Penn State’s offensive line isn’t elite by any means, but they have managed to keep Allar clean, leading the Big Ten allowing just four sacks this season. Ohio State’s offensive line, meanwhile, has allowed 10 sacks thus far — middle of the pack in the B1G — and has had its fair share of struggles in the run blocking department. Offensive line goes to Penn State.
Defensively, both teams have two talented defensive ends, but Penn State’s have been able to get to the quarterback more frequently. Adisa Isaac and Chop Robinson have combined for eight sacks on the year, while J.T. Tuimoloau and Jack Sawyer have combined for 4.5. Overall, Penn State’s defense leads the Big Ten with a whopping 27 sacks on the season, while Ohio State has mustered only 10, which ties for last in the B1G. While the Buckeyes are likely stronger on the interior, where Tyleik Williams and Mike Hall Jr. have excelled, its hard not to give this position group to the Nittany Lions as well.
I’m going to group the back seven together here just as to no go super long on my half of You’re Nuts this week.
Penn State’s defense has been dominant. The Nits rank No. 1 in the Big Ten in rushing defense, allowing only 72.5 yards per game on the ground, and No. 1 in passing defense, allowing 121.2 yards per game through the air. Now, a caveat here is that Penn State hasn’t exactly played any real dynamic offenses thus far, with wins over West Virgina, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Northwestern and UMass. The numbers are still impressive, but Ohio State is far and away the best offense this team has seen this season by a rather wide margin.
Ohio State’s defense has been no slouch, either. The Buckeyes haven’t exactly played some world beaters either, but they did have a big matchup against Notre Dame on the road — whom they held to 14 points — and held a Maryland offense that ranks second in the B1G in passing offense to under 200 yards through the air. Overall, Ohio State ranks No. 3 in the conference in passing defense, allowing 154.3 yards per game, and fourth in rushing defense, allowing 109.2 yards per game.
Taking a look at the big picture, Penn State does appear to have more positional advantages than Ohio State, but whereas the Nittany Lions have a slim leg up in areas like running back and offensive line, I think the Buckeyes’ advantage at wide receiver and their potential upside at both running back and on the defensive line could even things out. These are two really good defenses on paper, but Ohio State has passed some big tests against quality opponents, where the Nittany Lions have not yet really been tested by anyone.
At the end of the day, I think this is going to be a close, low-scoring battle. If this game was played at Beaver Stadium, I would probably give the advantage to the Nittany Lions. However, with Ohio State getting this game at home, I still think they deserve to be a small favorite here. This is likely James Franklin’s best team in his time at the helm in State College, but I’d put the line at OSU -1.5.