4 Reasons Why Penn State Will Be A National Championship Contender
The Nittany Lions are poised for a successful 2020 season
By Dan Karpuc - Jun 1, 2020, 6:52pm
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The Penn State Nittany Lions closed out their 2019 season ranked No. 9 in the Associated Press Poll following a 53-39 victory over the Memphis Tigers in the Cotton Bowl.
At 11-2, the Nittany Lions were taken down by the Minnesota Golden Gophers and Ohio State Buckeyes, but have now gone 42-11 with two bowl victories in the last four years of coach James Franklin’s six-season tenure. Their two bowl losses came by a total of six points, too, so they’re clearly a program that’s trending in the right direction.
At +3400 (FanDuel), +4000 (MGM) and +5000 (DraftKings) to win the upcoming national championship, Penn State is a phenomenal bet due to their star-studded offense, some interesting 2019 betting data, their elite defense and their advantageous schedule. Let’s explore the four reasons why placing a bet on the Nittany Lions makes a lot of sense.
1. Sean Clifford Will Lead A Dynamic Offense
At +6000 to win the Heisman Trophy (FanDuel), junior quarterback Sean Clifford will look to build off a productive sophomore campaign in which he threw 23 touchdown passes compared to just seven interceptions while adding five more scores with his legs. Hhis 59.2% completion rate will be an area to improve, but he threw for 2,654 yards and ran for another 402 as a dual threat.
Clifford’s 116 rushing attempts were the second-highest on the team behind junior running back Journey Brown (129), who racked up an impressive 890 yards on 6.9 yards per carry with 13 total touchdowns (including one receiving).
Look for the 5’11, 206-pound back to take another leap forward as an NFL prospect in 2020. In the six games from when he captured the starting job in Week 9 through the Cotton Bowl win, Brown rushed 90 times for 638 yards (7.08 yards per carry) with nine touchdowns. He also absolutely decimated Memphis’ defense in the bowl game, rushing for a career-high 202 yards and two scores. Could he be the next Saquon Barkley? Possibly.
Penn State’s offensive line should be among the best in the nation yet again and it’s worth noting that Franklin brought in new o-line coach Phil Trautwein from Boston College this offseason. Not only did he develop all five of his starting linemen into All-ACC players last season, but BC ranked first in the FBS in blitz down sack rate and third in power success rate (the percentage of runs on third or fourth down with two yards or less to go that achieved a first down or touchdown).
With Clifford and Brown in the backfield behind their talented line, the Penn State offense should click. Look for junior tight end Pat Freiermuth (43 catches, 507 yards, seven touchdowns in 2019) and junior Jahan Dotson (47 catches, 488 yards, five touchdowns in 2019) to take leaps forward as the two main playmakers in the passing game.
2. Spread Betting Data From The End Of Last Season
BetQL Dashboard Data
As you can see above, the majority of the money bet on the spread was attracted by the Nittany Lions in five of their final six games last season. The only exception was when they squared off against Ohio State, and 46% of the total money was wagered on PSU in that game.
Not only did bettors have confidence in them to win outright, but 66% of the money backed them as 5.5-point favorites at the Michigan State Spartans, 90% of the money backed them as 6-point favorites at Minnesota, 53% of the money backed them as 15-point home favorites against the Indiana Hoosiers, 65% of the money backed them as 39-point home favorites over the Rutgers Scarlet Knights before they attracted 64% of the money in their Cotton Bowl victory as 6.5-point favorites.
Penn State’s presence as “Linebacker U” will be on full display this season as junior Micah Parsons could very well emerge as the best prospect at his position in all of college football. He racked up 109 tackles, five sacks and four forced fumbles last season.
While they’ll have to rely on youth at cornerback, coordinator Brent Pry’s unit will feature upperclassmen on their defensive line, at linebacker and at the two safety spots.
The Nittany Lions allowed just 16.0 points per game last season, which ranked 8th in the FBS. That was an improvement from when they allowed 20.5 per contest in 2018, which ranked 23rd, and right in line with when they surrendered 16.5 in 2017. There’s no reason not to expect the success to continue, given the experience on the roster and on the various levels of the defensive coaching staff.
4. They're Going To Be Favored In All But Two Of Their Regular-Season Games
PSU will kick off their season on September 5th against the Kent State Golden Flashes at Beaver Stadium. They’ll then travel to Blacksburg, Virginia to square off against the Virginia Tech Hokies in Week 2 before hosting the San Jose State Spartans and Northwestern Wildcats in Weeks 3 and 4.
Their first major test will come in Week 5 when they’ll travel to Ann Arbor to take on the Michigan Wolverines. That’s the first of the two times that they’re currently listed as underdogs.
After that game, they’ll have a week off before returning to action with two home games against the Iowa Hawkeyes and Ohio State (the second of their two major tests).
If they enter Week 9 with a perfect record, they should finish the regular season without a loss, with road contests against Indiana and the Nebraska Cornhuskers and home games against Michigan State and the Maryland Terrapins before closing out the year on the road against Rutgers.
All-in-all, if they can get past Michigan and Ohio State, or even beat one of the two, they’ll have a strong shot to make it to the Big Ten Championship Game and then the College Football Playoff.
Penn State, Flickr
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Note: the views expressed above represent the author's view and does not necessarily represent the view or position of BetQL. Further, BetQL does not guarantee the outcome of any bet listed above.
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