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Back Penn State as big favorite in Big Ten opener against Illinois on Saturday

Why we're betting Penn State to cover a two-touchdown spread at Illinois on Saturday.

STATE COLLEGE, PA - SEPTEMBER 02: Drew Allar #15 of the Penn State Nittany Lions warms up before the game against the West Virginia Mountaineers at Beaver Stadium on September 2, 2023 in State College, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
STATE COLLEGE, PA - SEPTEMBER 02: Drew Allar #15 of the Penn State Nittany Lions warms up before the game against the West Virginia Mountaineers at Beaver Stadium on September 2, 2023 in State College, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)Read moreScott Taetsch / Getty Images

The Penn State Nittany Lions make the trip to Champaign to face the Illinois Fighting Illini, and we have Penn State odds, picks and predictions featuring our best bet for this September 16 game.

Read on for our Illinois vs. Penn State prediction and pick, featuring our best bet for today.

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Illinois vs. Penn State prediction

It’s hard not to love everything about Penn State.

Through two games, the Nittany Lions are fourth nationally in Offensive Success Rate and first nationally in Defensive Success Rate. They stuffed West Virginia into a locker in Week 1, averaging 11.1 yards per pass while allowing 3.7 yards per rush (the Mountaineers are a rush-heavy team, so their passing stats mean less).

New quarterback Drew Allar has looked magnificent in early-season action, ranking eighth nationally in Pro Football Focus’s passing grades and third in Adjusted Completion Percentage (90.2%) among quarterbacks with at least 30 dropbacks.

Meanwhile, I am extremely worried about Illinois.

Their new-look, inexperienced secondary showed that inexperience against Kansas, with Jalon Daniels going 21-for-29 passing with 277 yards and two touchdowns.

I will admit that a mobile quarterback who can avoid the Illini’s top-tier defensive line is a bad matchup, but the numbers are still very concerning.

Kansas created nine scoring opportunities (drives past the opponent’s 40-yard line), while Illinois generated only three. If the Illini hadn’t come away with touchdowns on all three of those drives (an improbable scenario in the long run), they could’ve lost by even more.

Week 1 was a similar story. Illinois allowed Toledo to generate seven scoring opportunities to the Illini’s five. The Rockets compiled 416 total yards and almost won the game.

The Illini should be 0-2. They’ve played flat-out lousy football.

» READ MORE: Texas Tech, Washington are live long shots to win their conferences

The Illini should be able to run the ball. Bielema-led teams always have a solid offensive line and rushing game, and this year’s team is no different, ranking ninth nationally in Rush Success Rate.

Penn State’s rush defense looked rock-solid against West Virginia but not infallible. West Virginia managed 146 rush yards and almost shortened the game enough to cover a 20-point spread – Penn State scored with under a minute left to turn a 15-point win into a 23-point one.

That’s the blueprint for Illinois in this game. The Illini must ground and pound effectively and create long scoring drives to keep the ball out of Allar’s hands. A home ‘dog of over two touchdowns can keep it close by draining the clock.

However, the Illini’s highly talented defensive line hasn’t created any Havoc (119th nationally through two weeks), and Altmyer has done nothing in the passing game. I doubt the Illini can stay within two scores using only a solid rushing attack, especially if their passing game and secondary continue to be ineffective.

I went back and forth on this game, but James Franklin’s resume ultimately convinced me that Penn State is the right side. Franklin-led teams are 6-1 as in-conference road favorites of over two touchdowns.

Meanwhile, Bielma led teams have only been home underdogs of over two touchdowns twice, with Arkansas getting blown out in both games.

I’ll keep my handicap simple: Penn State is great, and Illinois isn’t playing well.

Illinois vs. Penn State pick

Penn State -14.5 (-110)

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