MICHIGAN WOLVERINES (5-0)
at PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS (3-2)
Kickoff: Saturday, 5:00 p.m. ET
Line: Michigan -1.5, Total: 51
While it has not always been pretty for No. 18 Michigan this season, the team remains unbeaten as it travels to Happy Valley to take on Penn State Saturday afternoon.
The Wolverines are a team still searching to find a true identity as we near the halfway point of the college football season. Junior QB Devin Gardner as been arguably the most polarizing player in college football this season. Against Notre Dame, he had moments where he looked to be a darkhorse Heisman trophy candidate with 376 total yards and 5 TD. However, in games against UConn and Akron in which Michigan failed to cover the spread, he threw 5 INT and only 2 TD. However, the team took a step in the right direction last Saturday by taking down Minnesota, 42-13. Penn State has had problems of its own, coming off a 20-point thrashing at the hands of underdog Indiana last Saturday. Last season, nobody had many expectations for the Nittany Lions, and they surprised a lot of people en route to an eight-win season. Heading into Saturday’s game, they are the underdog, a situation in which they thrived in last season (3-1-1 ATS as an underdog). Penn State has won three straight meetings in this series, all by double-digits, but this will be the first game played between the two teams since 2010. The Nittany Lions are 10-2 ATS when playing with six or less days of rest over the past two seasons, but Wolverines head coach Brady Hoke is 14-4 ATS (78%) when facing a good team (60% to 75% win pct.).
Will Penn State hand Michigan its first loss of the season? For the answer, connect to College Football Best Bets for all the StatFox Experts picks throughout the 2013 regular season and bowl season. The four experts continue to thrive in college football Best Bets with a combined 58.1% ATS record (61-44-3) for the season. StatFox Gary is a sizzling 82% ATS (9-2-1) in college football Best Bets over the past four weeks and 67% ATS (10-5-1) this year. StatFox Scott is 67% ATS (10-5-1) on Best Bets in the past three weeks and 60% ATS (18-12-1) for the season. StatFox Dave is 75% ATS (9-3) on Best Bets in the past two weeks and 56% ATS (22-17) for the season. StatFox Brian is 52.4% ATS (11-10-1) in Best Bets this season.
While there is a lot of talent on the Wolverines football team, they are only going to be able to go as far as QB Devin Gardner takes them. He is a terrific athlete that can get out and make plays with his feet, but too many times he tries to squeeze the ball into a double-coverage, leading to his 8 TD and 8 INT this year. He needs to just stay within the offense, as RB Fitzgerald Toussaint (397 rush yards, 4.1 YPC, 7 TD) is capable of carrying the ball 25-to-30 times a game. While he isn’t blessed with elite speed, Toussaint is a very shift runner with the strength to run people over. When Gardner does drop back, he has talented receivers such as WRs Jeremy Gallon (367 rec. yards, 4 TD) and Devin Funchess (296 rec. yards, 2 TD) who tallied 151 receiving yards on seven catches last week. The Wolverines defense has been stellar this season, giving up just 19.4 points per game (27th in nation). DB Blake Countess showed big-play ability on the defensive side of the ball, taking an interception 72 yards for a touchdown in the win against the Golden Gophers. Look for the Wolverines defense (90 rush YPG, 3.1 YPC allowed) to really crank up the pressure (9 takeaways this year) and get after the Nittany Lions, as this is when Penn State has struggled the most on offense.
The win by Indiana last week marked its first-ever victory over Penn State in 17 matchups. The defense really struggled, giving up 486 yards, with 336 coming through the air. Freshman QB Christian Hackenberg (8 TD, 4 INT this year) had another good game for the Nittany Lions, throwing for 340 yards and three touchdowns, while not throwing a pick. WR Allen Robinson has been his favorite target all season with 621 yards and 5 TD, and he was stellar against Indiana, catching 12 passes for 173 yards and two touchdowns. Robinson is a terrific receiver that has big-play ability, but is also fearless about going over the middle. This is always a heated matchup when these two teams play, and look for it to be the same again this season. The key will be which quarterback is able to withstand the pressure from the opposing defense. Penn State allows 20.4 PPG (31st in FBS) and like Michigan, is tough against the run (111 rushing YPG, 3.2 YPC). However, the Nittany Lions need to force more turnovers, having totaled just three takeaways in the past four weeks combined. This could be a huge step for the PSU program, as Michigan tries to compete for a Big Ten title, but the Nittany Lions are going to be extra motivated after last week’s embarrassing loss.