College Football Picks: Syracuse vs. Penn State Preview

Doug Upstone

Wednesday, August 28, 2013 8:40 PM UTC

Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013 8:40 PM UTC

During the 1950’s and 60’s, this was an important rivalry game for Eastern college football fans. These two schools have gone their separate ways and have only met twice since 1991 and will renew this battle at a neutral site in New Jersey on Saturday.

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Like the Bob Dylan song from a bye-gone era –"The Times, They Are A-Changin’"- Penn State ditched the eastern football scene in the 90’s for the Big Ten and Syracuse begins its first year as an ACC member.

There is no need to rehash the sordid events of Penn State, other than to say what first year coach Bill O’Brien accomplished with the senior class was remarkable in posting an 8-4 record. All the negative and positive elements are quickly fading into the rearview mirror and O’Brien will have to just be a football coach after all the hysteria has settled and now it’s about guiding the program through challenging waters.

Penn State has 11 starters back, with a lot of inexperience in the backfield. The starting quarterback will be either Christian Hackenberg or Tyler Ferguson and Coach O’Brien is doing his best Bill Belichick impersonation stating “You'll find out who the quarterback is on the first play against Syracuse," he said during his weekly news conference. 

Chances are, whoever it is will hand the ball to bruising runner Zach Zwiank, who rushed for 1,000 yards last season and seemingly half of them were running thru tacklers.

If Hackenberg or Ferguson can quickly establish themselves, the perimeter targets are plentiful with the likes of Allen Robinson (77 catches), who added 10 pounds of muscle to his 6’3 frame. All quarterbacks love to have a bailout tight end and the Nittany Lions have a terrific player at that spot in sophomore Kyle Carter.

Penn State opened as touchdown choice for this ABC regional telecast and has inched upwards to -7.5 or -8, with a total of 52 in the college football odds.

Orangemen need QB and other answers

Syracuse hits the reboot button with Scott Shafer as coach for the departed Doug Marrone, who left for the NFL after two bowl appearances in three years.

Shafer is walking into a tough spot after the ‘Cuse lost record-setting quarterback Ryan Nassib. Shafer has been more forthcoming about his quarterback replacements saying sophomore Terrel Hunt and Oklahoma transfer Drew Allen will both play in the opening game.

Each field general will have talent to work with like the dynamic running back tandem of Jerome Smith and Prince-Tyson Gulley and receiver Jarrod West, matched with Beckett Wales at tight end. The offensive line has three anchors returning which can only help either new quarterback.

Defensively, the Orange ranked 48th overall and might improve if Marquis Spruill and Jay Bromley show senior leadership.

Keys to look for

With the quarterback inexperience, both coaches will rely heavily on the run game to move the ball and safe passes to tight ends or wide receiver screens. This is where being creative with schemes and looks are important from a deception perspective to confuse the opposition and lead to big plays out of simple execution.

Each defensive coordinator will do whatever possible to slow the run game and create down and distance issues to force the other team to throw the ball on third and long, setting up situations for potential turnovers or wildly flipping field position which can directly lead to points.

Whichever team does the best or worst job in this area will be your winner.



Penn State has more frontline talent and deserves to be the sports betting favorite, but the reason they cover the spread is because Bill O’Brien is the better coach, having vast NFL experience and is a great offensive game-planner. His club will win by 10 points or more, so keep them in mind when making your college football picks.

NCAA FB pick: Pick Penn State -8.5 on the spread at 5Dimes

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