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Michigan vs Penn State preview: Are Nittany Lions undervalued as touchdown underdog?

Two of the last three matchups between Penn State and Michigan have been decided by one possession, and the betting trend is expecting a similar outcome on Saturday.

STATE COLLEGE, PA - OCTOBER 01: Nicholas Singleton #10 of the Penn State Nittany Lions celebrates with Sean Clifford #14 after scoring a touchdown against the Northwestern Wildcats during the first half at Beaver Stadium on October 1, 2022 in State College, Pennsylvania.
STATE COLLEGE, PA - OCTOBER 01: Nicholas Singleton #10 of the Penn State Nittany Lions celebrates with Sean Clifford #14 after scoring a touchdown against the Northwestern Wildcats during the first half at Beaver Stadium on October 1, 2022 in State College, Pennsylvania.Read moreScott Taetsch / Getty Images

One of the top matchups during Week 7 of the college football slate will take place in Ann Arbor, where No. 10 Penn State looks to keep its undefeated season alive against undefeated No. 5 Michigan in a game with plenty of Big Ten and College Football Playoff implications.

The Nittany Lions, fresh off their bye week after winning a low-scoring slugfest against Northwestern at the beginning of the month, face their stiffest competition yet in the Wolverines, who possess one of the best rushing attacks in college football led by Blake Corum.

Two of the last three matchups between these teams have been decided by one possession, and oddsmakers at Caesars Sportsbook expect that trend to continue. The Nittany Lions are seven-point underdogs ahead of Saturday’s game.

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The last time the Penn State faced off against Michigan as a touchdown underdog or more was in 2018, according to OddsShark, when the Nittany Lions suffered a blowout loss to the Wolverines as 13-point underdogs, failing to cover as well.

Over their last eight matchups since 2014, the James Franklin-led program has covered just twice against the spread, while winning just three of those matchups in that time frame. Two of the three wins have come over the last three seasons, including a win in Ann Arbor during the shortened 2020 season.

Under Franklin, Penn State has just one win in four matchups overall in Ann Arbor since 2014, with those three losses yielding a 26.3 point differential.

This is a spot Penn State is rarely in; since the end of the 2019 season, when they were 20 point-underdogs against Ohio State at Ohio Stadium (PSU covered), the Nittany Lions have only been a touchdown or larger underdog just two other times, both against the Buckeyes (10-point underdog in 2020, 18-point underdog in 2021).

Furthermore, Penn State is profitable for bettors as road dogs, covering in four of its last five games in such circumstances.

Sean Clifford played well in wins over the Wolverines in 2019 and 2020, but last season was sacked seven times and fumbled twice. However, with Olu Fashanu along a much more developed offensive line, the Nittany Lions could find some success, especially in the running game behind sensational freshman running back Nick Singleton.

» READ MORE: Penn State’s Nick Singleton is ‘all substance, no swag’ — an approach that keeps paying off

An emphasis on the running game and relying on its defense leads me to believe this is a game worth taking the under on the 51.5 point total, but expect Penn State to play much better than the betting line suggests.

Michigan vs Penn State odds (via Caesars)

Betting Line: Penn State +7; O/U: 51.5

MICH: -267

PSU: +215

*Penn State and Michigan are both 3-2 against the spread this season.

The Inquirer is not an online gambling operator, or a gambling site. We provide this information about sports betting for entertainment purposes only.