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Non-TCU Game of the Week: Ohio State vs. Penn State

Week 8 begins with a major Big 10 battle before three ranked matchups light up the schedule.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 29 Ohio State at Penn State Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Headliner:

#3 Ohio State vs #7 Penn State (+5.0) 11:00 a.m. CT Saturday, October 21 on Fox

This week eight matchup provides the opportunity for both Big 10 squads to make a statement. Both Ohio State and Penn State have only played one ranked opponent thus far. In Penn State’s ranked victory, the game wasn’t even relatively close. The Nittany Lions butchered the Iowa Hawkeyes. The vaunted Pen State defense only allowed 76 total yards and shut out the Hawkeyes. The Buckeyes didn’t dominate their opponent, Notre Dame, but still managed to pull out a tough win by only three points.

The College Football Playoff picture will surely be clearer after this one. Ohio State is a great team but doesn’t truly have an identity. The Buckeyes are filled with playmakers but don’t have the marquee name they’ve had at quarterback in recent years. While quarterback Kyle McCord has played well in his debut season as the starter, he hasn’t shown elite ability. He’s thrown for 1,651 yards and 11 touchdowns thus far. And while the Buckeyes may not be capable of relying on their offense, their defense has played fantastic. The Buckeyes allow the seventh least yards per game and allow their opponents to less than ten points.

Penn State has the best defense in all of college football. The Nittany Lions are the only team in the nation to allow less than 200 yards per game. And the Nittany Lions are stout against both the pass and the run. The Penn State defense is especially lethal at defending the pass and it starts with getting after the quarterback. Penn State has amassed 27 sacks through seven weeks. Senior edge-rusher Adisa Isaac leads the way with five sacks. On offense, Penn State isn’t overly explosive but maintains a balanced attack. Sophomore quarterback Drew Allar has played a clean brand of football. He’s thrown twelve touchdowns to zero interceptions and has only taken four sacks all season long.

The Buckeyes have won the past six matchups against the Nittany Lions. Oddly enough, the last Penn State victory came when the Nittany Lions were unranked in 2016. Since then, Ohio State has dominated the series, although the scores have remained close, year after year. This year’s Penn State squad has a different feel. With such a stout defense, a win against the Ohio State Buckeyes isn’t far-fetched. Despite having such a phenomenal defense, the Buckeyes are the more well-balanced squad. Whoever wins this contest won’t be a surprise, but I’m going with the favorite here, making it even less of a surprise.

My pick: Ohio State wins 28-20

The Undercard:

#18 USC vs #14 Utah (+7.0) 9:30 p.m. CT Saturday, October 21 on ESPN

Can Caleb Williams finally beat Utah? The star quarterback’s lack of success against the Utes will surely be the storyline heading into this affair. And to make matters worse, Williams is coming off perhaps the worst game of his collegiate career. The Trojans were smoked by four scores a week ago by the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Williams and the usually explosive USC offense couldn’t get much going. Williams was held to 199 yards, averaging a measly 5.4 yards per attempt. Additionally, he threw three interceptions and finished the day with negative yardage on the ground. As a result, the Trojans dropped eight spots in the AP Poll.

Williams and Co. look to bounce back as they return to Los Angeles to take on the fourteenth-ranked Utah Utes. A year ago, USC lost three games, and two came at the hands of the Utes. Utah squeaked by 43-42 in the first contest before rolling 47-24 in the Pac-12 Championship last season. This season, the matchup feels a bit different. The media, coaches, and analysts are a bit weary of the USC Trojans after back-to-back poor showings. And as for Utah, they also had a drastic drop in the AP Poll, but have three challenging games in the next four weeks to rebuild their College Football Playoff resume.

Both USC and Utah still have outside shots at the CFP. However, it’s generally assumed that either Washington or Oregon has the best shot at making the playoff. This game will ultimately decide whether each of these squads has a chance to compete for a National Championship. USC has a championship-caliber offense, but their defense pales in comparison. The Trojans have allowed more than 40 points in three straight contests. Conversely, the Utes have a rock-solid defense, but a second-rate offense. The Utes are bottom 20 in total offense but rank in the top 10 in total defense. Two very different teams are clashing in this one. While USC has yet to display a competent defense against a good team, I do believe the Trojans get the requisite stops to halt the Utes from outscoring USC.

My pick: USC wins 31-27