NCAA betting: Penn State looking to bounce back from outlier season

·Betting analyst
·4-min read

It's not how you start, it's how you finish. Penn State closed out its most disappointing season under James Franklin with four straight wins after dropping its first five games. Last season was challenging for Franklin, who had to adjust to being without key players on both sides of the ball. Micah Parsons opted out and was selected 12th overall by the Dallas Cowboys, and RB Journey Brown had to withdraw due to medical reasons. Penn State forged ahead and lost the opener to Indiana on a controversial call in the end zone. That missed opportunity was a precursor to the first five games as the Nittany Lions continued to slide. After a strong finish, Franklin embraces the clean slate that a new season brings.

This season will be a much-needed fresh start for QB Sean Clifford. New OC Mike Yurcich will overhaul a Penn State offense that ranked 83rd in explosive plays. Yurcich comes over from Texas, where he lit up defenses for 42.7 points per game — fifth best in the FBS. In Yurcich's last five seasons, his offenses' average ranking is just outside the Top 10. He contributed to the development of NFL quarterbacks Justin Fields, Mason Rudolph, and most recently Sam Ehlinger. Getting the most out of Clifford will be key to this season.

I expect to see positive results very quickly in Penn State's passing game. The offense ranked 37th in yards per game and now returns nine starters, including star wideout Jahan Dotson. Dotson's 884 yards and eight TDs last season led the Big Ten. The emergence of sophomore Parker Washington gives Clifford the necessary weapons to succeed in Yurcich's offense. The Lions' success hinges on Clifford's ability to execute a high-powered attack while protecting the football.

Reasons for positive regression

Last year was difficult for every program, but few had the unique challenges Penn St. faced. When evaluating how much to take away from its 4-5 season, there are two questions I ask myself.

Does Penn State have the talent to turn things around? Penn State's record last season was not reflective of the talent they rostered. The Nittany Lions continue to be a top 15 recruiting program over the last five years and show no signs of dropping off. They lost two games last season In which they outgained their opponents by 200-plus yards (Indiana and Nebraska). Putting those two losses into perspective, they should have at least secured a 6-3 season.

Can they fix what plagued them in 2020? The answer will determine the success of Penn State this year. The Nittany Lions were minus-9 in turnover margin in their five losses, losing the turnover battle in each game. Clifford settled down as the season went on, throwing only one interception in the final four games. Whether his improvement was driven by maturity or a softer schedule remains to be seen. Yurcich has to get production out of the offense without turning the ball over.

Penn State over 8.5 wins

Penn State's win total at BetMGM is currently at 8.5 with the odds -125 to the over. The Lions are the betting favorites in nine of their 12 games and have a talent edge against almost all opponents. The schedule presents some challenges, starting with the opener at Wisconsin. Even if Penn State drops that game, they can still hit nine wins by winning three out of the four games below:

  • Auburn

  • Indiana

  • at Iowa

  • Michigan

I am betting Penn State to bounce back this year and go over the 8.5 wins. The Lions are a classic example of a team undervalued due to a 4-5 record in an outlier season. When you evaluate each game, Penn State outplayed most of their opponents on the stat sheet. Critical turnovers in high-leverage situations cost them, and this will be where you see Yurcich's impact. His history of elevating his quarterbacks is enough for me to project Penn State's ability to close games offensively rather than letting them slip away. I'm betting on that being all the difference in a big year at Happy Valley.

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