The two hottest teams in college football face off in the Rose Bowl Monday afternoon in what should be an extremely entertaining game. Penn State enters the Rose Bowl riding an incredible 8-0 SU and ATS winning streak, including defeating Wisconsin in the Big Ten Conference title game as three-point underdogs.
Not to be outdone, the Trojans take the field on an equally-impressive 8-0 SU and 7-1 ATS run, including handing Washington its only loss in 2016. USC’s domination started when the coaching staff replaced ineffective quarterback Max Browne with freshman Sam Darnold, who was nothing short of spectacular under center. I’ll side with Penn State plus the points as my free sports pick in the Rose Bowl.
Darnold’s offense averaged 37 points per game on 571 total yards at 7.1 yards per play against teams that would combine to allow just 5.4 yards per play against a mediocre offense. Darnold completed 68.1% of his pass attempts for 2,633 yards and 26 touchdowns (only 8 interceptions in nine games).
USC also possesses a potent ground attack behind Ronald Jones III that averaged 5.2 yards per rush attempt against teams that would combine to allow 4.4 yards per rush play. Overall, I rate the Trojans’ offense 0.8 yards per rush attempt, 1.2 yards per pass attempt and 1.5 yards per play better than average with Darnold under center.
The Trojans’ prolific attack will be challenged by an underrated Penn State defense that was 0.6 yards per play better than average during the regular season (4.9 yards per play to teams that would combine to average 5.5 yards per play).
However, with its top two linebackers on the field together (Bell and Cabinda), the Nittany Lions’ stop unit was 1.1 yards per play better than average (4.7 yards per play to teams that would combine to average 5.8 yards per play). Bell and Cabinda both returned from injury in Week 6 and, incidentally, that’s when the Nittany Lions went on their 8-0 SU and ATS run to end the 2016 campaign.
Penn State’s defense will be missing linebacker Manny Bowen, a 12-game starter and a key member of the team’s No. 23-ranked defense. Bowen was suspended for violating team rules and was fifth on the team in tackles and tied for second in tackles for a loss (8.5).
Wide receiver Saeed Blacknall has also been suspended for violation of team rules. Blacknall started seven games and split time as Penn State’s Z-receiver with 15 catches and 347 yards. I expect Penn State to remain effective defensively despite the suspension of Bowen as all reports indicate that the team wasn’t fazed by the news. “It’s a rally cry for our group,” defensive coordinator Brent Pry said. “There really wasn’t any flinching in the room.”
I rate Penn State’s underrated offense 1.4 yards per play better than average (6.7 yards per play against teams that would combine to allow 5.3 yards per play), which gives the Nittany Lions a decent 0.3 yards per play advantage over USC’s talented defense.
Technically speaking, Big Ten Conference bowl teams are 17-3 ATS versus an opponent that scored 35+ points in their final game of the season, while first-year head coaches (Clay Helton for USC) are a money-burning 2-13 ATS in bowl games versus an opponent off an upset win in their last game. Let’s also note that these first-year head coaches are 0-5 ATS as bowl favorites of 7+ points versus an opponent off a SU and ATS win.
Finally, since 1984, bowl teams that ended the regular season on a 5-0 SU and ATS run like USC are 15-23 SU and ATS in bowl games, including 1-4 ATS versus foes off an upset win. Grab the points with the Nittany Lions as Oskeim Sports’ free sports pick for Monday!
Oskeim Sports’ College Bowl Free Sports Pick: Penn State (+7.5) (-110)