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Penn State vs. Rutgers prediction: Fade the Nittany Lions as a big chalk

Penn State is on a 4-0 ATS tear but is slightly overvalued against the Scarlet Knights

Senior quarterback Sean Clifford and the Penn State Nittany Lions head into Saturday's game at Rutgers as a 19-point favorite. Penn State has covered the point spread in four straight games, winning the last three in a row. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)
Senior quarterback Sean Clifford and the Penn State Nittany Lions head into Saturday's game at Rutgers as a 19-point favorite. Penn State has covered the point spread in four straight games, winning the last three in a row. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)Read moreJustin Casterline / Getty Images

When the College Football Playoff committee released this week’s rankings Tuesday, Penn State found itself in the No. 12 spot, which means if the Nittany Lions could time travel ahead a few years to when the playoff expands from four to 12 teams, they currently would be holding the last ticket to the dance.

Unfortunately for Penn State, this is 2022 and not 2024 (the earliest that the new playoff format will begin). As such, coach James Franklin’s squad has no realistic path to this year’s national championship party despite a solid 8-2 record.

On the bright side, the Nittany Lions are very much in the mix for a coveted New Year’s Six bowl. They will move one step closer toward that prize with a victory Saturday at slumping Rutgers (4-6 SU, 5-4-1 ATS). It’s a victory that the Week 12 college football betting market definitely expects, as Penn State is a near three-touchdown road favorite.

But can the Nittany Lions cover the number for a fifth consecutive week?

Note: Odds updated as of 6:30 p.m. ET on Nov. 17.

Penn State vs. Rutgers Prediction

  1. Rutgers +19 (at BetMGM)

Penn State vs. Rutgers Prediction: Analysis

We’ve ridden with the Nittany Lions — and successfully so — each of the last three weeks.

However, this point spread feels inflated, even though Penn State’s last three wins have been by at least 28 points. And even though Penn State has been one of the best (and hottest) spread-covering teams in the nation.

In fact, the Nittany Lions are one of five teams currently on a 4-0 ATS run. (Only UConn and Ohio — both of which have cashed in seven straight games — are hotter.) And at 7-3 ATS on the season, Penn State is tied with 10 other schools for the sixth place in the 2022-23 ATS standings.

But that’s exactly why we used the word “inflated”. Whenever teams get on lengthy ticket-cashing streaks, oddsmakers always respond with a power-rating adjustment that affects the point spread.

» READ MORE: Who's on a collision course for the College Football Playoff?

Yes, Penn State has easily covered as a double-digit favorite in its last two games — 30-0 over Maryland as a 11-point home favorite last week; 45-14 rout of Indiana as a 14-point road chalk two weeks ago. But the Nittany Lions are 1-2 ATS when laying more than two touchdowns this season.

They trashed Ohio 46-10 as a 28-point home favorite in Week 1. However, in consecutive home games in Weeks 4 and 5, they failed to cash as a 25-point chalk against Northwestern (17-7 win) and a 28.5-point choice against Central Michigan (33-14).

Also, you have to go back to the end of the 2016 season — when it closed on a nine-game ATS winning streak — for the last time Penn State has covered in at least five consecutive games.

So what makes us think the Scarlet Knights can get inside this big number? Two things: weather and defense.

It’s expected to be frigid in New Jersey on Saturday afternoon, with a wind chill in the mid-30s at kickoff. That suggests we’re in for a low-scoring battle.

So, too, does the fact that Penn State’s defense has given up more than 17 points just twice in the last nine games. The exceptions: 41 in a loss at Michigan, 44 in a home loss to Ohio State.

Rutgers’ defense also got shredded by the Wolverines (52-17 home loss) and Buckeyes (49-10 road defeat). Otherwise, though, the Scarlet Knights have given up an average of 19.8 points per contest.

The only teams to score more than 21 on Rutgers: Michigan State (27 last week), Minnesota (31 on Oct. 29) and Iowa (27 on Sept. 24). Also, in the last four meetings against Penn State (2018-2021), Rutgers has allowed 28, 23, 27 and 20 points.

» READ MORE: Full sports betting coverage from The Philadelphia Inquirer

So let’s say the Nittany Lions put 28 on the on the scoreboard Saturday. That means Rutgers would need to score just 10 points to cover this number. As anemic as the Knights’ offense has been this season (19.9 ppg), it has scored in double digits in all but one contest (31-0 loss at Minnesota).

Finally, giving further credence to our prediction that this will be a low-scoring battle, the Under has hit in all eight Penn State vs. Rutgers meetings.

Well, when you’re getting 19.5 points in what projects as a low-scoring game, it seems more like 24 points. So we’re playing Rutgers in a classic “ugly ‘dog” situation Saturday and calling for a 24-10 Penn State victory.

Penn State vs. Rutgers Odds (via BetMGM):

  1. Point spread: Penn State (-19.5) @ Rutgers (+19.5)

  2. Moneyline: Penn State (-1400) @ Rutgers (+775)

  3. Total: 45 points

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