The Penn State Nittany Lions seemed to be on the upswing under former head coach Bill O’Brien, and now James Franklin inherits a team that will be out for revenge early Saturday in Ireland.
The Nittany Lions face a Central Florida Knights squad that upset them as 4.5-point underdogs in Happy Valley last year.
While Central Florida closed out last season on a nine-game winning streak, the team’s offense will have a new look without former star quarterback Blake Bortles and running back Storm Johnson, both of whom graduated to the pros with the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars.
Point spread: The Nittany Lions opened as three-point favorites; the total was 48 at Croke Park Stadium, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark (line updates and matchup report).
Odds Shark computer prediction: 37.9-27.9 Knights
Why the Penn State Nittany Lions can cover the spread
The Nittany Lions should have an edge offensively without having to deal with Bortles (288 passing yards and three touchdowns) and Johnson (117 rushing yards and two TDs overall), who connected on the first score of the last meeting and rarely looked back until a late Penn State rally fell just short in a 34-31 victory for the Knights.
Penn State sophomore QB Christian Hackenberg stayed true to the school despite risking fallout from the Joe Paterno/Jerry Sandusky controversy, and he played well against Central Florida last year with 262 yards and one TD.
Hackenberg was recently named the first sophomore captain in school history. Senior running back Zach Zwinak also ripped up the Knights run defense to the tune of 128 yards and three TDs, and he should become Franklin’s main bell cow this year in the offensive backfield.
Why the Central Florida Knights can cover the spread
Central Florida has covered its last six non-conference games, including that early road win against the Nittany Lions in Week 3 of last season. While Bortles and Johnson are gone, the Knights are led by a very experienced head coach in George O’Leary, who signed a new four-year deal to stay at the school following a successful 12-win campaign capped by a wild 52-42 win over Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl as 17-point underdogs.
Central Florida started last season by covering its first four games along with six of seven, with big wins coming against Penn State and Louisville during that stretch. The Knights also snapped a seven-game losing streak against Big Ten opponents with the win over the Nittany Lions, which should help their confidence.
UCF also snapped its seven-game losing skid versus Big Ten schools last year and would like to make it two in a row.
Both teams are traveling a long way for this nationally televised ESPN2 matchup, and although O’Leary may have Irish roots, he will likely need some luck to beat Penn State two years in a row. Hackenberg is on the verge of becoming a star, and he could end up helping his draft stock the same way Bortles did last season.
Franklin called coaching the Nittany Lions his "dream job" when he was introduced as O’Brien’s replacement in January during a news conference. He helped lead Vanderbilt to four covers in his last five games there, including a 41-24 win over Houston in the BBVA Compass Bowl.
Look for Penn State to get even for last year’s home loss by beating Central Florida this time.
- UCF snapped a seven-game losing skid versus the Big Ten last year.
- The total has gone UNDER in four of Central Florida's last six games.
Note: All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark. All quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury updates and line move updates and get the free odds-tracker app.