Penn State vs Northwestern preview: Can Nittany Lions overcome betting struggles vs. Big Ten West?
Penn State is favored by its largest margin in its series history against Northwestern, but Penn State's track record against Big Ten West opponents has been proven unreliable.
As Penn State dives fully into the Big Ten slate of its schedule after handling all three of their non-conference opponents, the Nittany Lions welcome a Northwestern program that is one of the worst in the conference this season.
After picking up a resounding win over Nebraska in Ireland in Week 0, the Wildcats have lost their last three games to Duke, Southern Illinois and Miami (OH), while being favored in each game by 7.5-points or more.
The Nittany Lions and Wildcats will meet for the first time since 2017, and just the fifth time in the last decade, with Northwestern winning two of the last three matchups. Under James Franklin, Penn State has been favored in all three matchups since 2014, and will be again on Saturday, but according to OddsShark, the 27-point chalk at BetMGM is the largest spread between these two teams since 2002 (PSU favored by 25.5).
Over the last three seasons, Northwestern has only been a 20-point underdog four times, twice in the 2021 season against Michigan (+23.5) and Wisconsin (+25.5), and twice in the 2019 season, against Ohio State (+27) and Wisconsin (+23.5). Of those four games, Pat Fitzgerald’s Wildcats has covered the spread just once.
Meanwhile, Penn State is just 5-5 against the spread in their last 10 matchups against Big Ten West opponents, that dates back to the start of the 2019 season. The Nittany Lions, led by a dramatic Sean Clifford late touchdown, covered their 3.5-point spread against Purdue in the season opener, but prior to that win, Penn State lost their previous two games against Big Ten West teams, versus Illinois, as 18.5-point favorites, and Iowa, as 2.5-point underdogs, in 2021.
The Nittany Lions lost their only game in Beaver Stadium under Franklin against Northwestern in 2014 as 10-point favorites, according to OddsShark, and have failed to cover in two of the last three matchups, both times resulting in losses. However, historically, Penn State has covered the spread against the Wildcats in six of the last eight meetings, including five straight from 2006-2012, and covered the 14-point spread in their last meeting in Evanston in a 31-7 win.
As for Saturday’s matchup, many expect for this game to result in a low-scoring slugfest with the lack of offensive output from Northwestern in its three-game losing streak. A weekly analytics look previewing each college football game at CFB Graphs projects the Wildcats to score just under three points, and Penn State to score nearly 28 points Saturday afternoon.
If you’re betting on this game, it may be best to take the under on the 52.5-point total, especially with how dominant Penn State’s defense has been the last three games, allowing just 12 points per game in that timeframe.
Penn State vs Northwestern odds (via BetMGM)
Betting line: PSU -27; O/U: 52.5 (-110/-110)
*Penn State is 3-1 against the spread this season, while Northwestern is 1-3 ATS.
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