This Friday the No. 10 ranked Penn State Nittany Lions (3-0) will travel to Champaign to take on the Illinois Fighting Illini (2-1). Kickoff is set for 9:00 EST at Memorial Stadium and will be televised on FOX Sports 1.
Taking a look at the Week 4 college football odds, the books opened with Penn State as a 26.5-point favorite. That’s since been bet up to the Nittany Lions -28.5 and the total for this one is sitting at 58 points.
Vegas Betting Preview & Game Odds: Penn State vs Illinois
The Nittany Lions got a massive scare in Week 1, as they barely escaped with a 45-38 win at home over Appalachian State. Penn State bounced back in a big way with a 51-6 win at Pittsburgh as a mere 7-point favorite and followed that up with a 63-10 thrashing of Kent State as a 36-point home favorite this past Saturday. Each of the last two wins have come via a dominating 2nd half performance. The Nittany Lions outscored Pitt 37-0 in the 2nd half and Kent State 35-0.
The Fighting Illini come into this one off a crushing 19-25 loss at home (game played at Soldier Field) to South Florida, but did manage to cover as a 14-point dog. Illinois had a 19-7 lead over the Bulls going into the 4th quarter, but it was all downhill from there. What really hurt the Illini was their inability to convert drives into touchdowns, as they scored just 1 touchdown to 4 field goals.
These two Big Ten programs last met in 2015. The Nittany Lions won that contest 39-0 as a mere 3.5-point home favorite. Penn State has won 4 of the last 5 overall in the series, but the lone loss did come in their last visit to Champaign, as they lost 16-15 as a 5-point road favorite.
NCAA Football Betting Predictions & Free Pick: Illinois +28.5
I would have to lean towards grabbing the big number and sweating this thing out with the Fighting Illini. No question who the better team is in this one, but I just think the number here is too high and the value is with the home team.
Click here for more free NCAAF picks from our top rated handicappers.
I know Illinois doesn’t have the greatest homefield advantage, but there’s no question the home team has an edge in these weekday games, especially when the road team is playing on short rest. This is also hands down the biggest home game on the schedule for the Fighting Illini this year, so I expect the Illinois fans to show up and support this team.
I also think people might be selling this Illinois team short. While they still got a ways to go to be in contention for a Big Ten title, I don’t think there’s any question they are improved over last year’s 2-10 squad. We saw just how much better they were against the Bulls. They went into the 4th quarter of last year’s game against USF trailing 37-9. This year they had a 19-7 advantage.
The running game has really been a bright spot for Illinois, who had 212 yards against USF and come into this game ranked 23rd in the country at 243 rushing yards/game. While Penn State held Kent State to just 41 rushing yards, they allowed 159 yards on the ground to Appalachian State and 245 to Pitt. If the Illini can get the running game going, they will be able to keep Penn State’s offense off the field and the fewer possessions the Nittany Lions have the better chance Illinois has of keeping this game close.
I also don’t think you can ignore the sluggish starts for Penn State. They were up just 14-6 over Pitt at the half and 21-10 over Kent St before a last second touchdown to close out the 1st half 28-10. They were also tied 10-10 at the half against Appalachian State. That slow start nearly cost them against the Mountaineers and the last thing they want to do is to give the Fighting Illini the belief they can hang around and win this game.
Lastly, this is a massive lookahead spot for Penn State, as they a home game against Ohio State on deck, which very well could decide the Big Ten East title. As much as James Franklin is going to preach to his team about focusing on the game at hand, it will be near impossible for the Nittany Lions to not start looking ahead to their showdown with the Buckeyes. I also think having that game on deck increases the likelihood of a backdoor cover, as the primary goal here is to just get a win and not get anyone hurt, which means starters will likely be pulled if it does get out of hand early. Give me Illinois +28.5.