The defending Big Ten champion Penn State Nittany Lions get their 2017 campaign started with a home date against the Akron Zips. The game is at noon on Saturday, September 2, at Beaver Stadium in University Park, Pennsylvania. It will be broadcast on ABC.

Oddsmakers have made Penn State a 33-point favorite in the game, with total points set at 63.5. Initial betting has favored Akron, bringing the line down a couple points after the Nittany Lions opened as 35-point favorites. Click here for a full list of Week 1 betting odds.

Penn State vs. Akron Betting Preview & Game Prediction

The Nittany Lions surprised many in 2016 by winning the Big Ten Championship Game. Despite getting blown out by Michigan early in the season, Penn State used a win over Ohio State to win the Big Ten East division and reach the title game, where they beat Wisconsin in a thriller. Penn State’s Rose Bowl matchup against USC was equally exciting, although the Nittany Lions ended up on the wrong side of a three-point game.

Penn State’s conference championship last year was not enough to get them into the College Football Playoff. However, it was enough to earn head coach James Franklin a new contract and a considerable raise. After a pair of 7-6 seasons in 2014 and 2015 when the program was still burdened by NCAA sanctions, the Nittany Lions took a huge leap forward under Franklin in 2016, convincing the school that he’s capable of leading them to the promised land.

Akron, meanwhile, is still trying to find its footing under veteran head coach Terry Bowden. After an 8-5 season in 2015, Akron looked ready to take another step forward last season. However, the Zips lost their final four games, ending the season 5-7 and just 3-5 in MAC play. 

The Zips are hoping to get things back on track in 2017. Offensively, Akron enters the season with plenty of promise. However, it’s on the defensive side of the ball that questions linger, which could make it difficult for the Zips to get back to a bowl game this season.

Free NCAAF Vegas Line Prediction: Akron +33

The smart play here is with Akron, not necessarily to win the game, but definitely to cover the 33-point spread. Akron’s offense has rarely been an issue during Bowden’s tenure, and there should be great confidence in the offense with senior quarterback Thomas Woodson fully recovered from a shoulder injury that kept him out for nearly five full games last season. In seven games last year, Woodson threw for over 2,000 yards with 18 touchdowns and just six interceptions.

To be fair, Akron doesn’t exactly have an abundance of skill players on offense. However, former Ohio State running back Warren Ball gives them an interesting option at running back. Ball got off to a fast start last year before he was sidelined by a season-ending injury. The Zips also return four starters along the offensive line, which could help them form a balanced attack offensively. Penn State has no shortage of talent defensively, although that talent will have a few key players to replace this season, meaning the Zips may be able to move the ball consistently when they visit Happy Valley.

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It’s on the offensive side that the Nittany Lions figure to shine in their opener. Quarterback Trace McSorley and running back Saquon Barkley are both among the best at their positions nationally. Penn State also brings back a deep stable of receivers and six offensive linemen that boast considerable experience. The Nittany Lions should have little trouble moving the ball against an Akron defense that gave up large chunks of yards and struggled to create turnovers last season.

Despite Penn State’s 11 wins last season, they rarely blew teams out. In their season opener against Kent State last year, the Nittany Lions won by 20, so a nearly five-touchdown spread may be a little out of their range. Given Akron’s experience at quarterback and the offensive line, there’s little chance the Nittany Lions will score enough points to cover a 33-point spread. Also, with both teams being competent on offense and facing questions on defense, this game could be a good opportunity to take the over on 63.5 total points being scored.