College Football Picks: Penn State vs. UCF

David Lawrence

Thursday, July 17, 2014 1:21 PM UTC

Thursday, Jul. 17, 2014 1:21 PM UTC

The Penn State Nittany Lions and UCF Knights both begin new chapters in the histories of their respective programs. They’ll open the 2014 season in Dublin, Ireland and we share our expert predictions.

Penn State Nittany Lions vs. UCF Knights – Game in Dublin, Ireland
Saturday, August 30th – 8:35 AM ET
NCAA Football Odds: Penn State -4.5
Dublin, a city that’s bathed in history, may be a weird place to play a US college football game, but that doesn’t take away from the importance of it for these two teams, and for sharp bettors eager to place valuable sports picks. What’s also worth pointing out is that with a start time of just after 8:30 in the morning on the East Coast of the United States, the game will lead into the rest of the college football schedule on the first full Saturday of the 2014 season. This is a big deal.


The Nittany Lions can win because…
They will be playing an opponent that will have to replace an excellent quarterback and an equally good running back from last season. UCF was so good on offense a year ago because of quarterback Blake Bortles and running back Storm Johnson. Bortles was a solid passer but also a very explosive and alert runner who could take off at any moment and blaze a path through a secondary. Bortles was extremely hard to contain precisely because of his speed. He gave defenses so many things to have to prepare for and worry about, but even when defenses initially contained him, Bortles had the ability to improvise and do something well in response. Without this kind of a quarterback, UCF’s offense is sure to struggle this season, and their future betting odds will reflect this.

The Knights aren’t going to have problems only because Bortles is no longer around. The champion in the first season of the American Athletic Conference will also be without Storm Johnson, a slashing running back who was great at making defenders, usually outside linebackers and cornerbacks, miss in one-on-one situations on the perimeter. He would get past the first man on the outside and bust a big gain. He was effective as a setback who carried the ball, but he was just as much of a force when he caught swing passes out of the backfield. UCF can’t expect to score at a high rate in this game, and that should really help Penn State.


The Knights can win because…
They are going up against a team that doesn’t yet know what it has or how it will perform when it takes the field. There is a lot of optimism in Penn State because of the arrival of new head coach James Franklin, who has used his success at Vanderbilt, a woeful program for much of its history, to jump to Penn State. The Nittany Lions think they’ve found the next great coach of the program after Bill O’Brien bolted for the NFL’s Houston Texans, having kept the program afloat under virtually impossible circumstances. Franklin is a great recruiter, and in future seasons, his classes are likely to make Penn State a factor in the Big Ten. Right now, though, Franklin has to deal with the short term, and the transition to a new system is something that could take time for Penn State to implement under Franklin. The newness of the coaching staff is going to mean that PSU quarterback Christian Hackenberg might need a little time at the beginning of the season to feel comfortable within Franklin’s offense. He could process this game slowly, and being in a foreign country could make his adjustment process even more pockmarked with difficulties.

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Outlook & NCAA Football Betting Prediction
If Penn State doesn’t turn the ball over, it should be able to win if only because it has a returning quarterback and UCF doesn’t. Yet, UCF has a solid secondary and a lot of confidence after winning the Fiesta Bowl last season. This feels like a close game, so take UCF to cover for a safe college football pick. Will the Knights get a clutch score, though? They might not do enough to win the game outright.

NCAA Football Picks: UCF +4.5 at 5Dimes

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