Several key advantages give Ohio State an edge
Penn State is every bit as good as Ohio State and certainly can win Saturday’s showdown. But the Buckeyes have not just one, but three major elements in their favor, which is why I’m picking them.
The game is in Columbus, first and foremost. Winning at The Horseshoe is always difficult for any opponent, no matter how good.
Second, this is a revenge game for Ohio State. Penn State fans won’t may not want to acknowledge this, but the Buckeyes should have won last year’s game at Beaver Stadium. Instead, the Nittany Lions prevailed in a thriller, 24-21.
Urban Meyer never should have had his place-kicker, Tyler Durbin, attempt a 45-yard field goal with 4 ¢ minutes left. Durbin had never made a kick that long, and if Meyer had just punted while holding a 21-17 lead, there’s not much chance PSU’s offense would have been able to drive 80-plus yards for a winning touchdown.
Meyer blew it. He knows it. He’s going to want to atone for it. One Ohio State website pointed out that Meyer is 11-1 in his career in revenge games (playing an opponent the year after losing to it).
The third factor is the bye week. The Buckeyes are fresh, they’ve had a week to prepare for this game, and Meyer has won an astounding 20 consecutive games following a bye in his career.
These are all stats and trends, of course, and may not have any bearing on this particular game. But they still cannot be overlooked, and they are big reasons why Ohio State is favored by a touchdown.
We all know what Penn State can do offensively and defensively, and the past few years have shown that the Lions do match up well with Ohio State from a personnel standpoint.
The key for the Buckeyes will be how quarterback J.T. Barrett plays, which is no surprise to anyone. He’s had a great career, but he has not been overly effective throwing the ball against Penn State. His three career games:
n He was 28-of-43 for 245 yards and one TD last season (a 24-21 loss)
n He split time with Cardale Jones in 2015 and was 4-of-4 for 30 yards and two TDs (a 38-10 win)
n He was 12-of-19 for just 74 yards, one TD and two interceptions in 2014 (a 31-24 double-OT win)
Barrett is a great runner, and he can do damage against any defense with his legs. If he doesn’t throw the ball well, Ohio State won’t beat Penn State.
But this is Barrett’s last go-around in college football, and he enters the game with a great deal of confidence. He has a staggering 21 TD passes and just one interception this season, and granted, the Buckeyes’ competition has been bad, but Barrett comes into this game with an enormous amount of confidence. Plus he’s at home.
My guess is Barrett plays well and makes enough plays for a 27-20 Ohio State win.
Even if PSU loses — a close game — it will not eliminate the Lions from College Football Playoff contention. They’d still be in very good shape if they finish with one loss.