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College football forecast: Make or break for Barkley, Lions

By Matt Youmans  (VSiN senior editor) 

October 27, 2017 11:32 PM
Running back Saquon Barkley trots into enemy territory as the Heisman Trophy favorite, but Penn State is a 7-point underdog to Ohio State.
© USA Today Sports Images

After a bye week and with revenge in his eyes, Urban Meyer is a scary adversary. When betting against Ohio State, proceed with caution and understand the possible consequences.

Extra time to prepare is overrated in some cases, but it’s a definite advantage for coaches such as Meyer, Nick Saban and Bill Belichick, who command football fields with a tactical brilliance similar to generals Douglas MacArthur and George S. Patton. (Maybe that’s a stretch, but it was written for dramatic effect, so play along.)

In a Big Ten showdown that amounts to a playoff game, No. 6 Ohio State (6-1) is a 6½- to 7-point favorite over No. 2 Penn State (7-0). The home-field edge and Meyer factor are reflected in the line. VSiN oddsmaker Vinny Magliulo is among those who have the Nittany Lions power rated slightly higher than the Buckeyes.

Penn State is putting everything on the line. Because of the Lions’ weak nonconference schedule, their playoff chances would become a long shot with a loss. Running back Saquon Barkley trots into enemy territory as the Heisman Trophy favorite, but that could change if he gets stopped by the brick wall that is the Buckeyes’ defensive front.

A shorter Bo Jackson without the baseball skills, Barkley has compiled 757 yards rushing, 448 yards receiving and 273 return yards in seven games. He can beat the opposition in a variety of ways, and he’s not alone in the huddle. Trace McSorley, a poised veteran, triggers the offense and throws to wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton and tight end Mike Gesicki in addition to Barkley out of the backfield.

The Lions used a special-teams score and defense to upset second-ranked Ohio State 24-21 last year in Happy Valley. That was coach James Franklin’s biggest win by far, and Meyer is using revenge as motivation for his players. But the high stakes involved will be all the incentive needed.

The Buckeyes are in a must-win spot because they lost their biggest game yet, falling to Oklahoma on Sept. 9. Meyer stuck with quarterback J.T. Barrett when some critics called for him to be benched. Barrett has bounced back by totaling 22 touchdowns with no interceptions in five wins against weaklings Army, UNLV, Rutgers, Maryland and Nebraska. Running back J.K. Dobbins (775 yards) is another big-time threat to the Penn State defense.

Before the Heisman was a betting option in Las Vegas, it was mostly a time-wasting talking point. This game will have major Heisman implications for those of us who bet Barkley at 20-1 odds during the summer. Barrett is back in the picture, too.

The weather forecast for Columbus calls for rain and light winds, conditions that should not be a disadvantage to either team or dampen a delirious crowd of 100,000-plus fans.

It’s obviously tough to bet against Meyer, especially when he’s had extra time to game plan, but riding Barkley is not a bad plan. The preferred play is Penn State at plus-7.

Saturday’s plays: KENTUCKY (-3½) over Tennessee; WEST VIRGINIA (plus-7½) over Oklahoma State; Air Force (plus-10) over COLORADO STATE; California (plus-4) over COLORADO; ARIZONA STATE (plus-3½) over Southern California; North Carolina State (plus-7½) over NOTRE DAME; ARIZONA (plus-2½) over Washington State; Penn State (plus-7) over OHIO STATE; San Diego State (-9½) over HAWAII.

Last week: 5-1 against the spread

Season: 36-27-1

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