The new Big Ten scheduling format presents college football fans with a number of mouthwatering matchups early in the season. The cross-division tilt between the Penn State Nittany Lions and Wisconsin Badgers may be the best one of them all. Coming off their first losing season since 2004, the Nittany Lions are looking for a better start. They dropped their first five games in the abbreviated conference-only slate last year only to bounce back and win their final four games by an average of 19 points. So, which PSU version will we see in this early season showdown?
The game between the Penn State Nittany Lions and Wisconsin Badgers will take place at Camp Randall Stadium at 12 p.m. ET on Saturday, September 4, 2021 and will be televised on FOX.
Penn State Nittany Lions at Wisconsin Badgers
Penn State Nittany Lions +5 | Wisconsin Badgers -5 [BET NOW]
Over/Under: 49.5 [BET NOW]
(Odds provided by BookMaker.eu at 8:38 am ET)
It really was a tale of two seasons wrapped into one for the Nittany Lions. They opened 2020 with a heartbreaking overtime loss to Indiana and dropped games to Maryland and Nebraska to go 0-5 SU and ATS in their first five. They were able to turn things around with wins and covers in their final four contests. They haven’t played Wisconsin since 2018 when PSU extended its winning streak in the series to four games with a 22-10 home victory. The Lions are also 6-1 SU and ATS in the last seven series games.
It was a strange season as well for the Badgers, who needed a regular season ending overtime win over Minnesota and a 42-28 win over Wake Forest in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl to finish 4-3 SU. They covered the 10-point line against the Deacs ending a streak of four straight cover losses to Big Ten foes to finish 3-4 ATS.
Penn State Nittany Lions
Winners in 15 of their last 16 September games, the Nittany Lions face a daunting task to continue that torrid run. Facing a bunch of cupcakes early in the season in years past had a lot to do with that record. For the first time under James Franklin PSU opens against a ranked opponent. The rankings are highly subjective anyway so nobody really knows if these teams will even be there in a few weeks. But winning in Madison is always a tough chore. And facing a strong defense puts a lot of pressure on Kyle Clifford to perform. The team is also breaking in its fourth offensive coordinator in five seasons.
The dual threat ability of Clifford is something that keeps a defense on its toes. Clifford threw for 1,883 yards and 16 touchdowns last season while running for 335 yards and three more scores. He did have a problem with turnovers throwing nine picks and that’s something that needs to be corrected for the Lions to have any success. They averaged over 430 yards and nearly 30 points last season, but a lot of the damage was done against lesser teams. They’ll have to get the job done against a team most expect to win the Big Ten West.
Since Ohio State isn’t in their half of the conference the Badgers are a strong pick to win the West Division. And like PSU they have some questions that need answering after a wacky last season. Long a staple of the program, the running attack misfired last year ranking eighth in the conference and 62nd nationally. There is hope that the dominant ground game of seasons ago can return. An experienced offensive line should open more holes for Jalen Berger and the rest of the backfield group to run through. Berger was a bright spot on the ground last season running for more than 300 yards in four games. It’s scary to think what the numbers would be like without him.
An improved ground game will also help QB Graham Mertz, who was inconsistent last season. He threw for 1,108 yards and five touchdowns, but during a three-game losing streak he completed less than 56 percent of his passes with five picks and only on touchdown against Northwestern, Indiana and Iowa. He also attempted at least 34 passes in each of those games and the Badgers managed 20 points total. The defense looks to be solid once again giving the Badgers a chance. Eight starters are back for a group that led the Big Ten in fewest yards allowed.
Penn State at Wisconsin Predictions
Our picks: Penn State +5 / UNDER 49.5
I’m not sure if the offenses have caught up yet. Both teams showed signs of being good on that side of the ball last year, but overall they were below average. Experienced QBs should help, but the teams will have to rely on their stop units leading to value on the UNDER. With points being scarce I’m leaning toward taking the points with the visitors.
View today’s college football odds.