PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS (7-0)
at OHIO STATE BUCKEYES (6-1)
Ohio Stadium – Columbus, OH
Kickoff: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
Line: Penn State -6.5, Total: NA
#6 Ohio State will be looking to deal #2 Penn State its first loss of the year when the teams meet in Columbus on Saturday.
With a Thursday night Week 1 matchup against Indiana, Ohio State had the eyes of the entire CFB world as they exploded in the second half for a 49-21 win. But when they became victims of a Baker Mayfield flag-planting a week later after a 31-16 home loss to Oklahoma, they kind of fell off the national radar. They've done nothing but beat up on underwhelming opponents since, advancing to 6-1 on the year (4-3 ATS) with their tightest margin of victory coming in a 38-7 win over Army. They're quietly No. 6 in the AP and Coaches' polls, and they're finally back in the national spotlight this week as they host undefeated Penn State in a Saturday afternoon matchup. The Nittany Lions have consistently impressed at 7-0 and 6-1 ATS, and they got a statement victory last Saturday night with a decisive 42-13 victory over Michigan. Ohio State, however, appears to represent easily the strongest opponent on their schedule, and Penn State has to feel disrespected after opening as 7.5-point underdogs, even on the road. Over the last 10 seasons, home favorites that have gained at least 6.25 yards per play in three straight games (OSU) are 44-18 ATS in matchups in which both teams are outgaining opponents by at least 1.2 yards per play on the season. In the same time frame, though, home favorites that have allowed no more than 17 points in two straight games (OSU) are only 35-75 ATS against teams coming off a win of 21 points or more.
After a season's worth of (relative) struggles culminated in an embarrassing shutout loss in the CFB Playoffs last season, more than a few Ohio State fans had doubts about the capabilities of QB J.T. Barrett. Those fears were believed to be confirmed after he took a while to get going in the opener at Indiana, and then struggled mightily against Oklahoma in a loss the next week. He has played so remarkably well in the weeks since, however, that he has entered the fringes of the Heisman conversation despite playing underwhelming competition. In the five games since the loss to the Sooners, he has thrown 18 touchdowns and not a single interception. He was nearly perfect against Nebraska two weeks ago (OSU is coming off a bye), completing 27 of 33 passes for 325 yards and five touchdowns. He also rushed for 48 yards and two touchdowns. He leads all Big Ten QBs with 359 yards on the ground this season. Despite gaining only six yards against the Cornhuskers, WR Parris Campbell leads the team with 405 yards through the air. He has a team-high 28 receptions, a number matched by WR K.J. Hill. Hill had seven catches for 80 yards and two TDs against the Huskers. WR Johnnie Dixon is the team's big-play threat in the passing game, having 276 yards and four touchdowns on only 10 catches this season. Freshman RB J.K. Dobbins has become a sensation in Columbus this season, as he's second in the Big Ten with 775 rushing yards on only 100 carries. He looks like college football's next great running back.
But college football's current great running back is, of course, Penn State RB Saquon Barkley. If Barrett is on the fringes of the Heisman conversation, than Barkley is at the forefront: He's third in the Big Ten in rushing with 757 yards (8 TDs), but is also seventh in receiving with 448 yards through the air (3 TDs). Only one other back in the conference has more than 200 yards through the air. In recent weeks, opponents like Indiana and Northwestern have had relative success in stuffing the box to slow him down, albeit at the expense of every other part of their defenses. Michigan mostly had the same type of success, although a 69-yard TD run on the second play of the game helped Barkley finish with 105 yards and two scores on 16 carries. He also caught three passes for 53 yards and yet another touchdown. Michigan's defense is one of the best in the country, making the performance all the more impressive. PSU's other offensive star, QB Trace McSorley, was also impressive, completing 17 of 26 passes for 282 yards, a touchdown and an interception. With three games of 48+ rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns under his belt entering the game, he had proven himself a situational run threat. Against the Wolverines, though, he had his best game of the season on the ground: 11 carries for 76 yards and three scores. WR DaeSean Hamilton, the team's leading receiver, had his second 100-yard game of the season with six catches for 115 yards. His other breakout game was against Indiana at the end of last month, when he had nine catches for 122 yards and three scores. TE Mike Gesicki, considered one of the best tight ends in the nation, had two catches for 52 yards against Michigan.