Saturday ABC Prime-Time Pick: Lions the Right Call vs. Ohio State

Wednesday, September 26, 2018 1:17 PM UTC

Wednesday, Sep. 26, 2018 1:17 PM UTC

The No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes are the favorites for Saturday night’s game against the No. 9 Penn State Nittany Lions – but these college football odds are way off course.

Jason’s 2018-19 NCAAF picks record: 6-4 ATS; 0-1 ML (minus-1.00 units), 0-1 Totals

No. 4 Ohio State (4-0) at No. 9 Penn State (4-0)Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, University Park (ABC)Free NCAAF Pick: Nittany LionsBest Line Offered: Bodog

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If it’s Saturday night, the Big Ten must be on. We’ve already seen both the No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes and the No. 9 Penn State Nittany Lions on ABC's Saturday Night Football; we correctly chose Penn State in their win over Pitt, but we just missed with Ohio State in their win over TCU. Now that these teams are going to face each other, it’s only logical that the Lions are the right choice for our Week 5 college football picks, right?

Perhaps. Penn State opened as a 4-point home dog for Saturday’s matchup; they’re +3.5 on the NCAAF odds board at press time, even though the consensus figures show 57-percent support for the Buckeyes. That means, in theory, that the bigger bets are on the Lions, and bigger bets usually mean sharper money. Let’s riggidy-roll.

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The last two Penn State-Ohio State matchups have been wild.

Who's ready for Saturday?

— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) September 25, 2018

Playing Favorites

First, the science, beginning with the stat nerds at the Worldwide Leader:

  • ESPN Football Power Index: PSU 53.6 percent
  • Equivalent Moneyline (using SBR Odds Converter): PSU –116
  • Equivalent Point Spread (via Wizard of Odds): PSU –1.5

Obviously there’s something amiss here. Is it too early in the year to consult the Simple Rating System at Sports Reference for a second opinion? Maybe, but let’s try anyway... they have Penn State ranked No. 4 overall at plus-40.38 SRS, and Ohio State No. 12 at plus-34.36. I’m not even going to do the math – obviously the Lions will be favored in the end.

Strength of schedule seems to be the difference here. Aside from the Horned Frogs (ranked No. 15 in Week 2), Ohio State have loaded up on cupcakes thus far, while Penn State were brave enough to face plucky Appalachian State in Week 1 – a game the Lions needed overtime to win. Beating Pitt 51-6 in Week 2 has also skewed these numbers in PSU’s favor. It’s a meaningful blowout, but we do have to be careful giving too much credence to these early-season numbers.

It still looks like a fairly even matchup on paper. Each team is 4-0 SU and 3-1 ATS to start the 2018-19 campaign, and of the four games they’ve played against each other since James Franklin took over as Penn State’s head coach, three were very close – with the Lions covering each of those games, and winning straight-up in 2016 as 17.5-point underdogs. Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes took last year’s contest 39-38 as 7-point home faves. Let’s stick with the program and fade the bigger-name team. It’s just the right thing to do.

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