Penn State Nittany Lions vs. Ohio Bobcats Odds Preview and Pick

OddsShark.comFeatured ColumnistSeptember 1, 2012

DALLAS, TX - JANUARY 02:  Chima Okoli #52, John Urschel #64, Matt Stankiewitch #54 and Johnnie Troutman #74 of the Penn State Nittany Lions during the TicketCity Bowl at Cotton Bowl Stadium on January 2, 2012 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Under normal circumstances, Penn State would be a significant favorite opening the season at home to nearby Ohio.

But after an offseason that was far from normal, the Nittany Lions begin the post-Paterno era Saturday, against the little MAC school as modest chalk in Vegas.  

As of Friday afternoon, most sportsbooks tracked by were listing Penn State as 6.5-point chalk for Saturday's game.

"The emotion of this game makes it tough to handicap because you have to wonder how each side will react," Jack Randall, a handicapping analyst at, told me in an interview Friday.

"Ohio has been one of the best road teams against the spread in the past seasons with a 23-12-2 ATS mark, but Penn State has won 11 straight when they are favored."

After the defections and transfers, the Lions get back just six starters from the team that went 9-4 last season and lost a bowl game to Houston. Penn State was going to have six starters back on offense alone, but the transfers, most notably of 1,200-yard rusher Silas Redd to USC and WR Justin Brown to Oklahoma, reduced that number to two.

And only four starters return on defense. So Coach O'Brien and his troops will really be fighting an uphill battle this year. Is Ohio a speed bump in that battle or a hurdle that can trip them up?

On the other side of this matchup, Ohio returns 14 starters from a team that went 10-4 last year, losing the MAC championship game but winning a bowl. Six starters are back on offense, led by junior QB Tyler Tettleton (28/10 TD/INT last season) and three along the O line, and eight return on defense.

After blowing a 20-point lead in the MAC championship game last year, the Bobcats are gunning to redeem themselves this season and might have the personnel to do it. Their tough road act extends to the underdog role, where they are 13-5-2 as a road dog in the past six seasons.

These two programs haven't met on the gridiron since 1974. The last time Ohio played a Big Ten school, it lost to Ohio State two years ago 43-7.

Early wagering on this game has seen a 55/45 lean toward the Lions and a 60/40 split toward the 'under.

Free Penn State vs. Ohio Pick: Penn State will still field some talent, and we predict the sad circus of the offseason won't affect its on-field performance. This may be a game where the visitors unwittingly take pity on the home team.

We take PSU -6.5.