Penn State Slightly Favored to Beat Ohio in an uncertain atmosphere that’s certain

The 2012 Penn State Nittany Lions football team has to both, be looking forward to stepping onto the playing field and shunning it at the same time. Where there was once good reason to be happy in Happy Valley now there is an uncertain atmosphere bearing down on the spirit of the team, the school and the town. The Nittany Lions are facing Ohio in their season opener. How Penn State managed to be favored to win is beyond my amateur ability to predict college football winners. The only thing apparently certain is uncertainty. Therefore the whole game will be played in an uncertain atmosphere that is certain.  Though OddsShark.com listed the Nittany Lions as 6.5 point chalk for Saturday’s game such a slightly favored analysis certainly reflects uncertainty.

It’s a no brainer that Penn State would typically be a substantially favored to beat Ohio in a season home opener but with the present atmosphere as uncertain as any previous seasons, who can really predict or know.

Consequently, after an offseason that was far from typical, the reality is that the Nittany Lions begin the post-Paterno era Saturday, against the little MAC school as a modest chalk in Vegas.

Though fans still camped out in tents outside Beaver Stadium in advance of Saturday’s opener, nervous Vegas odds makers had to take into account how recent events might affect the games score. The fact that the NCAA took away scholarships, banned the team from participating in bowl games for four years, and hit the university with a $60-million fine looms over Beaver Stadium like the darkest of clouds.

As Penn State football fans swat away the Dusky that is still settling over the field it’s became increasingly noticeable that several top players are permanently absent from view, including 1,000-yard tailback Silas Redd who transferred to USC.

“The emotion of this game makes it tough to handicap because you have to wonder how each side will react,” Jack Randall, a handicapping analyst at OddsShark.com, said in an interview Friday.

“Ohio has been one of the best road teams against the spread in the past seasons with a 23-12-2 ATS mark, but Penn State has won 11 straight when they are favored.”

After the defections and transfers, the Lions get back just six starters from the team that went 9-4 last season and lost a bowl game to Houston. Penn State was going to have six starters back on offense alone, but the transfers, most notably WR Justin Brown to Oklahoma, reduced that number to two.

And only four starters return on defense. So Coach O’Brien and his troops will really be fighting an uphill battle this year. Is Ohio a speed bump in that battle or a hurdle that can trip them up?

On the other side of this matchup, Ohio returns 14 starters from a team that went 10-4 last year, losing the MAC championship game but winning a bowl. Six starters are back on offense, led by junior QB Tyler Tettleton (28/10 TD/INT last season) and three along the O line, and eight return on defense.

After blowing a 20-point lead in the MAC championship game last year, the Bobcats are gunning to redeem themselves this season and might have the personnel to do it. Their tough road act extends to the underdog role, where they are 13-5-2 as a road dog in the past six seasons.

These two programs haven’t met on the gridiron since 1974. The last time Ohio played a Big Ten school, it lost to Ohio State two years ago 43-7.

Early wagering on this game has seen a 55/45 lean toward the Lions and a 60/40 split toward the ‘under.

“Free Penn State vs. Ohio Pick” are eager to point out that Penn State will still field some talent, they predict the sad circus of the offseason won’t affect on-field performance. In their opinion, this may be a game where the visitors unwittingly take pity on the home team.

They’re taking PSU -6.5.

Overall “new normal” or what could be typical in the years that follow, might be a defeat in its opener to an Ohio team, led by former Nebraska Coach Frank Solich. The Bobcats won 10 games last year for the first time since 1968.

No one knows what life without Paterno will be like because it’s been six decades since anyone had to consider it. It’s would be ludicrous to be anything but uncertain.

O’Brien who has settled in as Penn States new coach, has few ties to Paterno, other than both were graduates of Brown University.

“I will certainly have butterflies before the game,” O’Brien said. “I’d be crazy to tell you otherwise.” And of course he will, and that’s a typical experience for any new coach. But what O’Brien did not say, but knows deep inside, is that Penn State football will be played in an uncertain atmosphere and that’s the only thing he can be certain about..

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