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What do the advanced analytics models say about Saturday’s Ohio State vs. Penn State game?

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Adam Cairns / USA TODAY NETWORK
Matt Tamanini Matt Tamanini is the co-managing editor of Land-Grant Holy Land having joined the site in 2016.

The biggest game of the college football season thus far will take place in Ohio Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 21 at 12 noon ET as the No. 7 Penn State Nittany Lions will come to Columbus to take on the No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes. This game has been circled on the calendar for months for many fans of the Bucks and the Nits and with both teams undefeated and in the top 10, opinions are split as to who will come out on top.

So, as we dive into a very exciting game week, we wanted to take a look and see what some of the advanced analytic models had to say about the matchup. Generally when looking at these analytical models they all tend to be fairly close together, but the three models that I look at every week are giving three pretty different views of the game, so I thought it would be worthwhile putting them together so we have them together, in one location, so that we can easily compare them to what happens on Saturday.

What Do Las Vegas SportsBooks Predict Will Happen in the Ohio State and Penn State Game?

When DraftKings SportsBook released its initials odds for the game, it had the Buckeyes set as 4.5-point favorites and currently the total points line is at 47 points. That means that the DK oddsmakers have the score projected at roughly 26-21 in favor of the Buckeyes.

While bookies aren’t purely using analytical analysis to come up with their lines, that is where the start. From there, they attempt to factor in what might encourage the public to put some money down and, conversely, what will get the expert gamblers to pony up some cash as well. And obviously, these lines can — and likely will — move throughout the course of the week.

So, while including the Vegas lines is a bit of an apples-to-oranges comparison with the rest of the traditional analytical models, I do think that it is a good place to start.

Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See for details.

What Does SP+ Predict Will Happen in the Ohio State and Penn State Game?

The gold standard in college football analytics, SP+ from ESPN’s Bill Connelly has Ohio State as the No. 2 team in the country, behind only Michigan. The Buckeyes have the No. 10 rated offense and the No. 4 overall defense. Penn State comes in at No. 8 in the team rankings with the 24th and second-rated units respectively.

SP+ predicts that Ohio State will win the game 27 to 22 and gives the Buckeyes a 63% win probability.

The thing with all of these models is that they theoretically get more accurate the more data that they have to factor in. So, the further into a season, the closer to the actual result they should get. You can see that in SP+’s predictions the last few weeks. It was pretty close in the Maryland game, and at least in the general vicinity against Purdue. But, before that, it felt like the model was still based off of data from last year’s offense and defense, and anyone who has watched the team this year knows that those units are markedly different than their 2022 counterparts.

On the other hand, SP+ seems to have had Penn State pretty much pegged for most of the season. It did underestimate the Nits’ offense against severely overmatched competition in Delaware and UMass, but otherwise, it’s been pretty accurate.

2023 SP+ Ohio State Predictions

Week Opponent SP+ Prediction Final Score
Week Opponent SP+ Prediction Final Score
Week 1 Indiana OSU 46, IU 12 OSU 23, IU 3
Week 2 Youngstown St. OSU 45, YSU 9 OSU 35, YSU 7
Week 3 Western Kentucky OSU 46, WKU 12 OSU 63, WKU 10
Week 4 Notre Dame OSU 28, ND 27 OSU 17, ND 14
Week 6 Maryland OSU 34, Mary. 18 OSU 37, Mary. 17
Week 7 Purdue OSU 37, Pur. 16 OSU 41, Pur. 7
Week 8 Penn State OSU 27, PSU 22 ???

2023 SP+ Penn State Predictions

Week Opponent SP+ Prediction Final Score
Week Opponent SP+ Prediction Final Score
Week 1 West Virginia PSU 39, WVU 16 PSU 38, WVU 15
Week 2 Delaware PSU 40, Del. 8 PSU 63, Del. 7
Week 3 Illinois PSU 33, Ill. 14 PSU 30, Ill. 13
Week 4 Iowa PSU 26, Iowa 14 PSU 31, Iowa 0
Week 5 Northwestern PSU 37, NU 9 PSU 41, NU 13
Week 7 UMass PSU 46, UMass 8 PSU 63, UMass 0
Week 8 Ohio State PSU 22, OSU 27 ???

So, what does this mean for Saturday’s game? Who knows? Probably nothing, but SP+ has been pretty spot-on for both teams in recent weeks, so while it might be nice rest on the idea that the Buckeyes are favored, it’s a relatively slim margin, so I wouldn’t put too much stock into it.

If you want to dive deeper into SP+’s predictions for all levels of college football, you can do that here.

What Does the College Football Nerds Model Predict Will Happen in the Ohio State and Penn State Game?

While Vegas and SP+ both have Ohio State favored by roughly five points, the College Football Nerds’model is picking Penn State by two scores. The model has the Nits favored by a score of 26.9 to 17.4.

Interestingly, the model projects the Buckeyes to gain nearly a full yard more per play than PSU a yard and a half more per passing play, and to only trail on the ground by 0.19 yards per carry. And while the CFB Nerds think that the Nits will do a better job of stymying the Buckeyes’ running game than average, the passing game is projected to proceed as normal, and both the OSU rushing and passing defense will far exceed what Penn State has seen this season.

So, to be honest, I’m not exactly sure what their model is using to account for a 9.5-point differential. There is no doubt that these teams have two of the best defenses in the country so far this season, but according to this model, it looks like the Buckeye offense will have a better go at it.

The only thing that I can come up with is that Ohio State is in the top three in relative performance in points allowed per game, yards allowed per game, and passing yards allowed per game, but is only 45th in rushing yards allowed per game. However, Penn State is leading the Big Ten with 203.33 rushing yards per game — even if the CFB Nerds’ rankings don’t have them as being all that efficient on the ground.

If you want to dive deeper into the CFB Nerds’ projection, including player stat predictions, you can do that here.

What Does the NCAA Game Simulator Predict Will Happen in the Ohio State and Penn State Game?

My favorite predictions model is the NCAA Game Simulator. As of the time of this writing, the model has run 2,670 sims, and Ohio State has won by an average score of 27.0 to 14.8. The simulator has shown OSU winning 79.9% of the time and winning by more than 20 points in 30.6% of the sims.

Penn State has only won by 20 or more points in 1.6% of the sims and the game has gone to overtime in just 3.7% of the sims.

What Does the Football Power Index Predict Will Happen in the Ohio State and Penn State Game?

I’m going to include ESPN’s Football Power Index in our roundup, even though it doesn’t provide head-to-head matchups. However, it does give a little bit of insight into the contest. Currently, FPI has Ohio State as the No. 1 team in the country with the second-best shot to win the College Football Playoff at 18.8%, behind only Oklahoma’s 22% chance.

It gives the Buckeyes a 43.3% chance to win the Big Ten East and a 25.3% to win out through the regular season. Conversely, FPI gives Penn State a 30.8% chance to win the division and a 14.4% shot to win out. For reference, it shows Michigan with a 25.9% chance to with the B1G East and a 13.9% chance to win out.

So, while this doesn’t specifically indicate that FPI is predicting an Ohio State win over PSU, it does strongly suggest it.