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Penn State vs USC Prediction – 2017 Rose Bowl Preview

Penn State Nittany Lions(11-2) @ USC Trojans(9-3)

  • Where: The Rose Bowl. Pasadena, CA
  • When: January 2, 2017 5:00 pm EST
  • Spread: Penn State +7 (-110) vs USC -7 (-110)
  • Moneyline: Penn State (+240) vs USC (-280)
  • Over / Under: Over 59 (-115) vs Under 59 (-105)

No college football program offers a better recruiting pitch than the University of Southern California. Sunny beaches, glamorous women, and storied history at a legendary venue. Star recruits from nearby high school programs such as De La Salle and Chaminade Prep are often merely a phone call away.

But despite the annual crop of 4 and 5-star studs, the Trojans don’t always convalesce as a team. In 2015-16 the Cardinal and Gold began the year 3-3, and fired former head coach Steve Sarkisian after an ugly 17-12 loss to the rebuilding Washington Huskies. Under interim coach Clay Helton, USC managed to win their division and appear in the PAC-12 championship game. Stanford won 41-22, but Helton was handed the reigns going into 2016.

Another bad start nearly doomed Helton’s 1st full season, with an unprepared squad getting blown out 52-6 by Alabama in week 1. 2 more early losses to Stanford and Utah would follow. But behind 6’4″ freshman QB Sam Darnold, the Trojans have reeled off an active 8-game winning streak, including a 26-13 triumph over PAC-12 champ Washington on November 12th.

The College Football Playoff committee was forced to overlook USC, since they have lost 3 games and did not win their conference. But Helton has turned a roster of raw size, speed and talent into a disciplined unit. Odds-makers are convinced that there is no more dangerous team playing in the New Year’s Six, leading to the Trojans odds at (-7) over the Big Ten champions.

But Penn State is perhaps more dangerous as an underdog than a favorite. Head coach James Franklin thrives on perceived disrespect, preaching a demolition-derby approach to the game and encouraging student-athletes to play with a chip on their shoulder.

PSU vs. USC PredictionDo the Nittany Lions, who beat Ohio State and Wisconsin, belong in the 4-team playoff? Maybe. But for wagering purposes, it is important to note that this Rose Bowl will not be played as if a “consolation game,” as a New Year’s Six bowl can often be for a P5 school which had hoped to make the CFP. Instead, Penn State will be out to gain national respect – and what better path than beating one of the hottest teams in the country.

This is a difficult bowl to pick straight-up, but bookies and gamblers have opened the door by anointing USC as such a heavy favorite. That creates the potential for a nice payoff on a Penn State ML wager, and intriguing ATS value in taking PSU plus the points.

Penn State – a hot streak of their own

The Nittany Lions have not lost a scrum since September, when Michigan clobbered them 49-10 on a day that wrecked their playoff chances. Franklin erupted in frustration after PSU was forced to play 3rd-string linebackers due to the ejection of Brandon Smith, a walk-on who would later return to star in several victories.

Penn State would go on to beat Ohio State 24-21 with a fantastic 4th-quarter comeback, and forge another 2nd-half rally against Wisconsin to win the conference title. With thinned ranks at OL and LB, the team has survived by pairing hard-nosed defense with a well-balanced attack led by signal-caller Trace McSorley. The sophomore QB has passed for 25 TDs and only 5 picks in 2016-17, and was named MVP of the Big Ten championship game. Swift RB Saquon Barkley has scored 16 times and averages 5.1 YPC on the season.

The math is simple – after standing up to schools like Ohio State, the Nittany Lions will not be overwhelmed by the talent of the Trojans. But the bigger question is whether the PSU defense will be familiar enough with the pro-style playbook of USC after months defending the spread-option schemes of the Big Ten.

If not, then the O/U line will easily be out-paced, and the ‘Lions will likely lose a shoot-out.

USC – home but not hosting

Should bettors treat this like a home game for USC? After all, it’s at the Rose Bowl. A noisy “home” crowd could bolster the formidable Trojan pass rush and help neutralize McSorley’s effectiveness as a passer.

Big Ten teams travel well, especially in the post-season. The stadium will be raucous no matter who has the ball. And USC’s defensive line depth is plagued by injury, suspension and transfers such as DT Noah Jefferson. But McSorley will need to get rid of the bean quickly, and may not have a prolific running game to lean on. In the win against Washington, Helton’s hell-raisers held Myles Gaskin to a scant 51 yards rushing, and sacked Jake Browning 8 times.

Betting Value in the Nittany Lions ATS

Despite the on-going underestimation of Penn State’s strength by bettors and bookies alike, and despite the (+240) odds, the value of a ML bet on the visiting Blue and White is unclear. USC has beaten both division winners in the PAC-12, and are playing on their home turf against a less-speedy team at LB and other positions.

But spot PSU a touchdown, and it’s game on. MSB predicts that the physical Nittany Lions will block, tackle, bang, crash and keep this game close. It’s not a sure thing, but Penn State plus-7 is a value bet for at least 1 unit of your bankroll.

Bet on the Big Ten representative and +7 for the Rose Bowl Game at Bovada Sportsbook.

Kurt BoyerThis article was written by Kurt Boyer

A freelance sportswriter from Missouri, Kurt has covered court, gridiron, rink and ring for 10+ years. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.

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