Vegas’s take on the Michigan/Penn State game as of Wednesday:
Penn State has not won a road game against a top-5 ranked team since 1994. The team they beat that year was… Michigan. (Penn State was ranked #3 that year and Michigan was #5, and Penn State won the game 31-24).
I’ve kind of been circling this game on my calendar, mentally, for a while and assuming this is where Michigan finally gets exposed. But the more I think about it—the more I put the matchup under a microscope—the less confident I am in Penn State here.
I’ve not let it go unnoticed that Michigan has not been impressive the last three weeks, struggling with Maryland, Iowa and Indiana.
But Penn State hasn’t been all that impressive, either. The only time this year I watched a full Penn State game was when they played Auburn, and after that game, I kind of just put a check mark next to Penn State’s name mentally and said “Yep, they’re good. They’re legit. No need to worry about them. Let’s revisit them once Big Ten play picks up.”
And while it’s impressive to go down to the heart of SEC country and pummel Auburn by 30 points, man, the fact of the matter is, Auburn isn’t a good team (64th in my power ratings). And the Auburn quarterback TJ Finley got knocked out of the game about midway through.
On top of that, Penn State hasn’t really been that impressive outside of that game.
Look at what they’ve done thus far:
I take it back: I have watched more than one Penn State game. I also watched the Purdue game in week 1. And Penn State was kind of lucky to win that game.
Fortunately for Penn State, even as hyped-up as JJ McCarthy has been, I think Purdue’s passing attack that Penn State faced in week 1 is better than what Michigan has to offer. So Penn State has some experience playing against a competent quarterback this year.
Other than Ohio (who is a bottom-five team in the FBS) and Auburn, Penn State has really struggled against some teams they should be beating handily. Purdue excluded, because Purdue is pretty good, and the game was on the road at Purdue, and Purdue was wearing their all-black “Spoilermakers” uniforms, which makes them an extremely dangerous opponent. Penn State had to have a late go-ahead scoring drive at the end, but to be completely honest, I don’t hold it against them for struggling with Purdue. Literally any team could struggle with Purdue, they’re the biggest X-factors in college football.
Purdue can beat anyone at any time, but they can also lose to anyone at any time. Purdue is the most terrifying team in college football. In 2018, Ohio State was ranked #2 in the country and came into Purdue for a night game, where Purdue was wearing the all-blacks. Purdue won 49-20. They absolutely beat the brakes off of Ohio State. And yet, earlier that season, Purdue also lost to Eastern Michigan. Purdue makes no sense. They’re also unique in that they’re one of the few non-elite teams that have a highly competent and effective passing game.
So Penn State does deserve some credit for winning that game. It’s a quality win. Not a high quality win, but a quality win nonetheless. Medium quality.
But Northwestern is not a good team. They are probably the worst team in the Big Ten. I have them ranked 96th in the country.
And Central Michigan is usually scrappy, but not this year. I have them 90th.
NW and CMU are bad teams and Penn State has struggled with them in consecutive weeks. They had a nice bye week this past weekend to get right, but I’m just not so sure about this Penn State squad. They are not coming into this Michigan game playing great ball.
Just look at these numbers from the NW game. It ain’t pretty:
This is a bad Northwestern team, too. They should be 0-5. Their only win was against Nebraska in Ireland in week zero, and Nebraska did that stupid onside kick that didn’t work out.
Since then, Northwestern has lost to Duke, Southern Illinois, Miami Ohio, Penn State and Wisconsin. They lost to not only Miami Ohio, but SIU is an FCS team. That’s embarrassing.
And Penn State barely beat this Northwestern team just two weeks ago.
Michigan may have some bad wins on its resume but Penn State has even more questionable performances. How do you average 4.6 yard per play against a team that lost to Southern Illinois?
So this is why I’m not really confident in Penn State’s ability to pull the upset. I think Michigan is fraudulent, I really do, but I think Penn State could be an even bigger fraud.
Now, in fairness to Penn State (and Northwestern), this game was played in a driving rainstorm, the remnants of Hurricane Ian. It was miserable weather conditions. As you can see, the teams combined for 8 turnovers in the game, and Penn State had 5 of them–4 fumbles and 1 INT. You can chalk it up to the bad weather, and I’m pretty much fine with that because NW also had trouble holding on to the ball.
I guess from a homer’s perspective, you’d say that Penn State’s defense should be commended for winning a game in which the offense coughed the ball up 5 times. That’s a big ask for a defense, to abruptly come back on to the field 5 times in a game and stop a team that has all the momentum and likely pretty good field position. Penn State’s defense held NW to just a single third-quarter TD. And NW’s TD was on like a 50 yard pass play after one of Penn State’s fumble turnovers. Really, that play was more or less the Penn State defense’s only slip-up in an otherwise dominant performance.
I will say I’m very impressed with Nick Singleton, and I think he’s a better running back than Blake Corum.
But this resume of Penn State’s is concerning.
What I’m assuming Penn State will try to do is load up against the run and force the unproven and quite frankly unreliable JJ McCarthy to beat them with his arm.
But Michigan is probably going to do the same exact thing: load up against the run, and force Sean Clifford to win the game with his arm. Clifford may be a 6th year senior and 24 years old, but he’s not really all that special as a passer. He ranks 53rd nationally in QBR which puts him as a lower end Power Five QB.
However, he did have his best game of the season against Auburn, on the road in SEC country, and so did the whole Penn State team. And I think that has to count for something, right?
It’s like Penn State has basically just snoozed through their other games this year and only really showed up for the Auburn game (James Franklin being the coach of Vanderbilt prior to Penn State really came in handy, huh? He’s already had plenty of experience in an SEC road environment).
Thus, we should expect them to show up and put their best foot forward for the Michigan game. That’s one way of looking at it for sure, and that’s how I’d be looking at it as a Penn State fan. But then again, even if we write the Northwestern game off and chalk it up to the terrible weather, Penn State still kind of struggled with CMU. And that should not happen. There’s just too much of a talent disparity.
I can forgive the Purdue game early in the year because Purdue is pretty good, and it was week 1. It’s basically preseason. Most teams play warmup games against Northeast South Central West Panhandle Tech Culinary College in week 1. So I can overlook that.
But I can’t overlook the CMU game, or the Northwestern game. The CMU game we haven’t even talked about but it’s ugly. Penn State was only up 21-14 at halftime. They went up 14-0 early but then just let CMU into it.
Look at these final numbers:
That is not pretty, folks. Statistically pretty darn close, even if Penn State was able to secure the win and suffocate the Chips in the second half.
Even if you say, “Well, Penn State doesn’t really try that hard against inferior teams; they play with their food.” That’s still not excusing anything. That means they’re undisciplined. Letting inferior teams hang around is a sign of two possible things: you’re secretly an overrated team, or you’re just very sloppy and undisciplined.
Given that we’ve seen Penn State win an impressive game against Auburn, I don’t think we can say Penn State is secretly bad. That Auburn game win was significantly more impressive than anything Michigan has done this year.
But why can’t Penn State just play like that every week, you know?
On to Michigan a little bit here:
JJ McCarthy leads the country in competition rate. But Penn State’s defense only allows opponents to complete 49% of passes. And they’ve played Purdue and Aidan O’Connell, too. But then again Michigan has played Iowa.
(I think Iowa might be an overrated defense, though. I mean, they’ve played some bad offenses: South Dakota State, Nevada, Illinois, Iowa State–it’s not like they’ve really been tested up to this point. Yet still, they were able to make McCarthy look fairly pedestrian given the circumstances (i.e. Iowa’s offense being a guaranteed three-and-out every single possession)).
One interesting stat I want to throw out there: no defense in the nation faces more pass attempts per game than Penn State’s. 45.2 pass attempts against per game on average. And yet as we just went over, Penn State’s defense holds opponents under 50% completion percentage. That’s a very weird situation.
The amount teams pass against Penn State’s defense, you’d think they had a bad pass defense. But they don’t. In fact, they only allow 262 pass yards per game, which comes out to just 5.8 yards per attempt on average. That’s very good pass defense.
Look at all the other teams up there with them: they all allow way higher pass completion rates. The only team up there in the top 12 that allows below 60% pass completion rate is Maryland, and they allow 59.5%. Penn State is a complete outlier up there among those teams.
Take Tennessee, in contrast: they’re #2 in most pass attempts against per game with 44.6, but Tennessee allows opponents to complete 61.9% of passes, a massive amount more than Penn State does. Teams throw on Tennessee with success. But not Penn State. It’s very strange.
At first I thought Penn State’s defense faced the most pass attempt because the typically have teams playing from behind and abandoning the run. But we went over Penn State’s schedule: they’ve actually kind of struggled in a lot of their games. They’re just not blowing everyone out (and even teams that do, like Alabama and Ohio State, don’t face anywhere near as many pass attempts per game as Penn State does: Alabama only faces 31.2 pass attempts per game, 70th in the nation, and Ohio State faces just 25.3, which is 123rd in the nation).
Okay, maybe it’s because Penn State has a poor pass rush. Well, looking at the stats, Penn State ranks 65th in the nation in sacks with 12. It’s not great, it’s middle of the pack. It’s average. It’s not bad or anything, though. And if Penn State had a bad pass rush, we wouldn’t see them holding opponents to a 49.6% completion rate. Such a strong pass defense isn’t just the secondary, it’s also partly the pass rush forcing bad and hurried throws. So Penn State has a decent enough pass rush, I’d say.
I really can’t explain it. But regardless of the reason behind this statistical phenomenon, I think it shows us that Penn State has a really good pass defense. They face a ton of pass attempts by opponents, and yet opponents barely complete 49% of their passes against the Nittany Lions defense.
This is a big deal because they also rank 5th in the nation in rush yards allowed per game at just 79.6, and they’re tied for 11th allowing just 2.9 yards per carry. So they’re strong against the run, too.
This is going to create problems for Michigan because running back Blake Corum has been the real engine of their offense. If Penn State can stonewall Corum on the ground, it’ll force Michigan to throw with JJ McCarthy, but Penn State has shown that they can hold up remarkably well against the pass, too.
And one additional factor: Harbaugh has been notoriously bad against top-10 teams during his tenure at Michigan. We all know this. As a matter of fact, he’s 3-14 against top-10 teams.
But James Franklin is arguably worse–he’s 2-13 against top-10 teams since going to Penn State.
So you have two coaches who notoriously can’t win the big games squaring off, yet someone is going to win this game.
I think Penn State is undisciplined and a tad overrated. The good news is that Michigan is also overrated, but probably more disciplined. Thus we get Michigan favored by 6.5-7 at home. That’s pretty close to an even game in my view. Home field in college football is worth way more than the 3 points they give you in the NFL. I think in an environment like the Big House in a rivalry game like this, home field is worth at least 6-7. I would personally have this game at something around -9 or -10 Michigan because of that home field factor, and I don’t think Vegas gives teams a full touchdown for being at home.
But on a neutral field I’d say this game should be Michigan -3 or -4.
My power ratings say Michigan should be favored by 23 in this game and by 16 on a neutral field, but I disagree with that. And it’s because while my ratings do factor in strength of schedule, I don’t think there’s any way to fully account for how pathetically bad Michigan’s schedule has been.
Josh Pate on Tuesday night mentioned that 5 of the 6 teams Michigan has played rank 98th or worse in scoring offense, and 4 of the 6 rank worse than 121st. That is pathetic.
Michigan has played quite literally one of the worst non-conference schedules I’ve ever seen, in Colorado State, Hawaii and UConn.
You take a look at the teams Michigan has played this year and where they rank in offensive yards per play, it’s a joke. Somebody should be arrested over this:
- Maryland: 12th
- Hawaii: 119th
- UConn: 122nd
- Indiana: 124th
- Iowa: 129th
- Colorado State: 130th
You shouldn’t even be allowed to play a schedule that bad. This Michigan defense has not been tested whatsoever outside of the Maryland game.
In terms of where each team ranks overall in my power ratings:
- Maryland: 20th
- Iowa: 62nd
- Indiana: 93rd
- UConn: 120th
- Colorado State: 126th
- Hawaii: 129th
We really know next to nothing about Michigan. The schedule they’ve played is just so bad. The average rank of those 6 teams they played is 93rd. That’s like a low-end group of five schedule.
The best team Michigan has played has been Maryland and that was a close game. So Penn State is better than Maryland, right? It should be pretty simple, then.
And you could look at it that way.
But here’s the thing.
My power ratings don’t really like Penn State. They really like Michigan.
I feel like everyone is taking Penn State and the points.
So because this site is called Fade the Public, I’m on Michigan to cover.
It pains me to say it because there are few things I enjoy more than watching Michigan lose.
But I’m on Michigan.
I will say that Penn State is going to be by far the best team Michigan has faced this season, and Michigan has not done well against a HORRENDOUS schedule. So it would not be shocking if Michigan is vastly overrated and Penn State goes in there and wins.
But I have to fade the public here. I hate it, because I’m actually starting to talk myself into Penn State just a bit. But I’m fading myself, and the public, here.
Michigan wins and covers. Final score: 23-14. It’ll be 16-14 Michigan in the fourth quarter, and they’ll add a late touchdown to secure the cover.
Okay, now for the Alabama – Tennesee game.
The game you’ve all been waiting for. The most anticipated matchup of the week, and the most anticipated Tennessee football game in probably over a decade.
Bama comes in as a -300 favorite to win, which is pretty sizable. They’re anywhere between -8.5 to -9 on the point spread.
Given the consensus over/under of 66.5 in this game, Vegas sees a Bama win something like 38-29.
Though Alabama and Tennessee are in different divisions in the SEC, they are a designated rivalry game, and thus they play every year (“the Third Saturday in October,” it’s called–and tomorrow is indeed the third Saturday in October, as the first of the month was a Saturday).
However, it hasn’t been much of a rivalry as of late. Alabama hasn’t lost to Tennessee since 2006:
It’s been a rough 15 years for Tennessee. Nick Saban has never once lost to Tennessee while at Alabama. In fact, during Saban’s time at LSU from 2000-2004, he went 2-1 against Tennessee, with the only loss coming in 2001, which Saban’s LSU Tigers would actually go on to avenge with a 31-20 win over #2 Tennessee in the SEC Championship. So overall, Saban is 17-1 against Tennessee in his career. That’s just pure dominance.
Over the 15 year span with Saban at Alabama, only two of the games have even been remotely close. 2009 and 2015 were the only one-possession games.
I still remember the 2009 game, when Alabama was en route to their first National Championship of the Saban era. Terrence Cody blocked a 44-yard Tennessee field goal at the very end to preserve the 12-10 Bama win. That was my first memory of Bama-Tennessee, but the game has been terrible ever since.
And yes, that was Lane Kiffin pacing the sidelines for Tennessee. It’s easy to forget that he was once the head coach in Knoxville many years ago.
And yes, if you watch that replay closely, you can see that Bama had Julio Jones out there on the kick block unit.
This year will be the first time since 2016 where both Bama and Tennessee were ranked coming into the game, with Bama at #3 and Tennessee at #6 right now.
So this is a big deal for both teams, but it’s a much bigger deal for Tennessee. This is their first good season in a very long time, and their first real chance to beat Bama in nearly a decade. Tennessee fans have been suffering for many years now, but it’s starting to feel like this once-proud football program is back in the thick of things in the SEC.
If Tennessee wins the game, Knoxville may burn down. I’m not kidding. Those fans are rowdy as all hell, that stadium is going to be rocking, and Tennessee fans are known for going wild after big wins.
In 2016, after beating their other hated rival, Florida, for the first time since 2004, Tennessee fans took to the streets and lit couches on fire.
The footage of the aftermath of Tennessee’s win over Alabama in 1982 should give you a bit of an idea of how big a deal this game is:
They may even riot if they lose, honestly.
They’ve been waiting so long for this they can almost taste it. If they’re denied the sweet, sweet victory they’ve been envisioning in their heads all week, they’re not going to be happy.
But the bottom line here is that this rivalry is a big-ass deal. It may not seem like it lately because it’s been so lopsided, but this is one of the SEC’s oldest and bitterest rivalries.
And it just so happens that that this game is actually (finally) relevant in the Playoff race.
If Bama loses, obviously they’ll still be heavily favored to make the playoff. They probably won’t even drop that far as long as the game is within a score. Bama has to lose twice to be eliminated from playoff contention. They just play by a different set of rules than everybody else.
Tennessee, if they win, will still have a very tough road ahead of them in the SEC because they still have to play Georgia, and if they don’t beat Georgia, they’ll have to win out AND hope Georgia loses two SEC games in order to overtake Georgia in the SEC East. Because if Georgia beats Tennessee, then Georgia holds the tiebreaker over Tennessee, so even if Georgia loses once, they’d still be ahead of Tennessee in the standings.
So basically in order to win the SEC, Tennessee is going to have to do the impossible, which is beat Bama, then beat Georgia on the road November 5, and then probably beat Bama again in the SEC Championship game. That’s pretty much an impossible task. (Tennessee also has to play #22 ranked Kentucky, another massive rivalry game, in two weeks).
But beating Bama this weekend would go a long way toward giving Tennessee some credibility in the eyes of the pollsters so that they would have some leeway for an at-large berth if, say, they lose close to Georgia, miss out on the SEC Championship game, but finish as a one-loss team this season.
I don’t want to get ahead of myself here, though. I want to focus on this game. Because this is the biggest game of the season thus far. It feels bigger than Texas-Bama from week 2.
My initial read on it the moment Bama secured its final-play victory over Texas A&M was that Tennessee was going to win. But then I saw everyone else on social media saying the same thing, and I became skeptical. Sometimes the crowd is right, but people were showing way too little respect to Saban in just confidently predicting a Tennessee win.
This is Bama we’re talking about. You can never count them out, or assume a win against them.
Vegas isn’t. Vegas has Bama favored by a good amount.
But the fact remains that Bama doesn’t do well on the road.
And I think this year’s Bama team is beatable. They should have at least one loss already, and they could easily have two already. They’re lucky to be undefeated.
Their Heisman quarterback is banged up, and almost certainly won’t be 100% for the game.
They’re saying on ESPN right now that Bryce Young is “on track” to play against Tennessee, but is a game-time decision.
I would kind of be shocked if he doesn’t play, just given the way things have looked the past few weeks. I mean, when he got hurt and went out against Arkansas, he was still there on the sideline in his full pads with his helmet on, looking like he could go into the game at any moment. He didn’t look hurt at all. In fact, I was surprised when he missed the A&M game. I almost wonder if they were resting him to make sure he’d be good to go for Tennessee, but then A&M is a big game. Saban would have to be on some next-level arrogance to hold his Heisman QB out in a huge rivalry game just as a precaution. I really do believe that if Bryce could’ve played against A&M, he would’ve.
Josh Pate was saying this week that everyone is wrong for assuming Bryce Young is playing. Pate says it’s not a sure thing. This was one or two nights ago, though. But I think either way, the takeaway is that we have no idea if he’ll be 100% for the Tennessee game. It’s probably outlandish to expect him to be back to full health, but even an 80% Bryce Young is better than a 100% Jalen Milroe. No disrespect to Milroe but he’s not on Bryce’s level.
Young is the biggest factor in this game. I still think Tennessee can win if Young plays, but obviously it’ll be a lot tougher. It’ll be tougher on the Tennessee defense, which is strong against the run but highly vulnerable against the pass. And that’s the real upshot of Young playing: if he’s in the game, he gives Bama the ability to exploit Tennessee’s greatest weakness.
Tennessee is actually strong against the run, and if Bama didn’t have Young, then Tennessee would have the ability to make life difficult for the Bama offense. Because with Milroe, Bama is basically a one-dimensional offense that just runs the ball. But with Young, they can throw it and run it. And thus it means Bama is probably going to score a lot of points on this Tennessee defense.
Honestly, without Young, I don’t think Bama has much of a chance against Tennessee. I think they just won’t be able to put up anywhere near enough points to win. Tennessee has a top-3 offense in the country; they’re going to score points. The question is whether Bama will be able to keep up. With Milroe, they probably can’t. But with Young, they definitely can, and even more than that, it could be Bama, rather than Tennessee, setting the pace offensively. In other words, with Young picking on Tennessee’s suspect secondary, they could be the ones forcing Tennessee to answer repeatedly, instead of the other way around. Bryce Young playing basically means Hendon Hooker has no margin for error: he’s going to have to score on almost every Tennessee possession if Young is on the other side.
The other major, pressing question I have is how well the Tennessee offense is going to be able to move the ball against the Bama defense.
Though A&M scored some points on Bama, it was mainly because of Bama turnovers and blunders. Not only that, but it felt like A&M simply could not block the Bama defensive front in that game. It was like every time Haynes King dropped back to pass he had Will Anderson and Co. in his face immediately. Like literally immediately; they just bypassed the Aggie offensive line every single time. It was like A&M didn’t even have an offensive line, honestly.
I will say that Tennessee is significantly more competent offensively than A&M. A&M’s offense is outdated and limited to the point of being dysfunctional. They were held to 180 yards by APPALACHIAN STATE, after all. So it’s not like A&M was this world-beating offense that suddenly ran into a brick wall against Alabama. In fact it was kind of the opposite: for as tough as life looked for the A&M offense at times, they were still kind of moving the ball. I was surprised at how much success they had on offense. It was more like, “Really? Bama is letting these guys move the ball on them?”
So Tennessee should be able to move the ball decently well against Bama. Obviously Bama is elite against the run, so it’ll fall more on Hendon Hooker’s arm, but the Bama secondary is the most exploitable level of that defense.
I think Tennessee will have some success against the Bama defense. They will score some points. Sure, Will Anderson is going to get to Hooker several times, and it’ll be demoralizing for the home crowd, but I think Tennessee will have success against this Bama defense.
Bama has only played two real teams this season–Texas and Texas A&M–and both teams were able to move the ball decently well, even given the fact that both teams were using backup QBs. I don’t think the Bama defense is this impenetrable fortress. I think they’re good, but they’ve also played some terrible teams thus far: Utah State, UL-Monroe, Vanderbilt. I almost forgot Bama has also played Arkansas, and they’re a real team, but I don’t think they’re a good team.
I don’t know. The more I think about this game, the more I talk myself into Tennessee. I just think Tennessee is a much better team than Texas A&M, and A&M almost beat Bama. So why shouldn’t Tennessee be able to beat Bama?
I know it’s not that simple. I know it.
But I don’t know, I just think something is wrong with this Bama team. They don’t feel as invincible and scary as they have in the past. I think this might be the worst team Saban has had at Bama in a while.
I really want Tennessee to win–it seems like everyone does–because I think it would be an incredible scene in Knoxville, and those fans have been waiting a long-ass time for a win here.
It kind of feels like Tennessee is the team of destiny here–at least destined to win this game–given that it’s in Knoxville and Bama has been somewhat shaky this year.
But my hesitation is how many people are confidently picking Tennessee. I don’t like people being so flippant about picking against Saban. This is Saban we’re talking about, folks. He does not lose often.
And I’m also worried about this line Vegas has set for the game. Bama -9 on the road? That means Bama would be favored by like 13 or 14 at home. I know Tennessee still has to earn respect as the “new kids on the block,” but damn, that just feels disrespectful.
Vegas is pretty much certain Bama is going to win this game, meanwhile the public is confident that Tennessee is going to at least cover. And most people are saying Tennessee is going to win outright.
I’m pulling for it to happen, I really am. I’m 100% team Volunteers tomorrow.
But Vegas’ confidence in Alabama scares me. And they set that line even before it was looking like Bryce Young was going to play. Vegas doesn’t care if he plays or not, they think Bama is going to win regardless. They just don’t buy Tennessee at all, apparently.
I think Vegas is daring you to take Tennessee and the points. It feels like a trap, a sucker line. They know a lot of people are going to bet this game with their hearts, and their guts. People saw Bama almost lose to A&M, and now they see Tennessee getting 8.5 or 9 points against that same Bama team? They know people won’t be able to help themselves from betting on Tennessee.
And it feels like that’s just what Vegas wants you to do: bet against the GOAT.
But here’s the thing: 8-9 points seems like a lot for Bama to cover on the road. I don’t think this is a typically great Bama team. I still have them #1 in the nation in my power ratings, but then again the eye test tells me they’re not the best team in the country. They don’t have offensive weapons on the perimeter. It’s Bryce Young, Jahmyr Gibbs, and that’s about it. They commit a lot of penalties, too. And they’re not great on the road, either! We’re just going to ignore that?
It just feels like Tennessee is destined to win this game.
I don’t know, but there’s a reason everyone out there thinks Tennessee is going to win this game. It’s just the vibes. I can feel it.
And that’s why I’m going with my heart over my head.
Tennessee covers. Tennessee finally beats Saban. Knoxville goes crazy and throws a party that will be remembered for generations.