Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m overselling Penn State vs. Minnesota just a little bit. Or am I? The game might be more important to both sides than the one that kicks off in Tuscaloosa, Alabama in the middle of Saturday afternoon. With Ohio State looming for Penn State, the Nittany Lions likely need to win in Minneapolis in order to keep their Playoff hopes alive. The same is true for Minnesota, a team that needs to go undefeated to make the Playoff due to its super soft schedule.
In the SEC game, LSU might be able to lose the game and still sneak into the Playoff. The same might also be true for Alabama because of how the Playoff Selection Committee has treated the program in the past. However, if you just look at this year’s Alabama team, its strength of schedule doesn’t match up to squads of the past. Its toughest non-conference foe is Duke and its toughest East Division opponent has been South Carolina. LSU in the same spots has played Texas and Florida. At the end of the year, a one-loss LSU would look better than one-loss Alabama.
The big question is, which program will have one loss at the end of the season? As much as I love Joe Burrow, Ed Orgeron, and those beautiful purple and gold uniforms, it’s probably going to LSU. Tua Tagovailoa’s injury complicates matters, but the Tide has the edge at home and should be able to put up points on LSU’s defense. We’ve already seen the Tigers give up big passing totals to Sam Ehlinger of Texas and Florida’s Kyle Trask. If Tua is healthy enough to avoid LSU’s pass rush, he should be able to find some openings in the secondary. What makes Bama’s offense such a powerhouse is that the passing game doesn’t get funneled through one receiver. DeVonta Smith, Jerry Jeudy, and Henry Ruggs III all have over 500 receiving yards already.
LSU should be able to keep pace for most of the game. The wide receiver duo of Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson have been impossible to contain for most opponents, and Burrow’s performance has been Heisman-worthy so far. I just trust Alabama a little more in this spot, but mostly I’m picking the Tide due to the home-field factor. For the spread, I will gladly go with LSU and the six points. I think Bama wins by three late.
Six points is also the spread in the Penn State game, but I’m going with the road favorite in that one. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Minnesota spring the upset, but Penn State has been tested far more severely and its defense should be able to hit and pressure Minnesota in way its not accustomed to. The Gophers are coming off of four straight blowouts over Illinois, Nebraska, Rutgers, and Maryland. How will they react when one of the best defenses in the country storms out of the gates and starts making life difficult?
Honestly, while I think Penn State’s defense will be good enough to win this game by 10 or so, it might not be quite ready for an offense as dynamic as Minnesota’s. We saw how the unit struggled when Michigan got into a rhythm in the second half three weeks ago. Gopher quarterback Tanner Morgan wasn’t very efficient in his last two games, but he also wasn’t needed very much, as Minnesota just relied on tailback Rodney Smith and the offensive line. The good news is that Penn State knows how to handle teams that love to run the ball. However, Tyler Johnson and Rashod Bateman are a receiving tandem that can give the Nittany Lions a lot of trouble. They probably give up two or three touchdowns in this game, but if the front seven can slow down the running game, there will also be turnovers to be had.
Those should lead to a serious point total for Penn State against Minnesota’s untested defense. The Lions just got done playing against Iowa, Michigan, and Michigan State. The offense is going to see some opportunities open up that weren’t there against the stingy units they just got done with. Look for Penn State to continue to get the ball to tight end Pat Freiermuth after he caught five passes for 60 yards and three scores two weeks ago in East Lansing. If the running game gets going early, Freiermuth is gong to have a big day.
This game should be entertaining as long as Minnesota isn’t completely overwhelmed by Penn State’s defense. I’m thinking Penn State wins 42-31.