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Staff Predictions: No. 8 Penn State vs. No. 2 Ohio State

No. 8 Penn State football (9-1, 6-1 Big Ten) will travel to Columbus to challenge No. 2 Ohio State (10-0, 7-0 Big Ten) at noon Saturday.

The Buckeyes are fantastic at, well, just about everything. The top-ranked scoring offense and defense in the nation will provide James Franklin’s squad with the toughest challenge it’ll face during the regular season. The Nittany Lions are currently double-digit underdogs everywhere you look, and the majority of our staff doesn’t see an upset in the cards for Penn State.

Here’s exactly what our staff expects to happen on Saturday at the Horseshoe.

Andy Mollenauer (6-1): Ohio State 42, Penn State 20

Penn State is going to get wrecked. With an offense averaging 51.5 points per game and a defense giving up an average of just 9.8 points per game, Ohio State is a nightmare and a balanced squad. I think Penn State will put up a spirited fight and certainly find the end zone a few times, but I expect the Buckeyes to steamroll Penn State to the tune of a three-touchdown margin.

Matt DiSanto (9-1): Ohio State 34, Penn State 31

I hate watching these two teams play. More often than not, these matchups end in heartbreak and disappointment for the Nittany Lions, and that’s exactly what I think we’ll see when Penn State heads to Columbus this weekend.

The Buckeyes’ defense is absolutely stacked. It has given up just 11 touchdowns so far this season and limited opponents to an average of 216.4 yards per game. The Nittany Lions are obviously capable of putting points on the board and driving the football, but with Noah Cain and KJ Hamler’s statuses up in the air, I’m not sure there’s enough talent left to tackle Ohio State. Even if the two do wind up playing, I doubt they’d be completely healthy and on the field for as many snaps as possible.

Penn State has a lot going for it, though. There’s a high chance of rain, a noon kickoff, and the fact that Ohio State is coming off two de facto bye weeks against Maryland and Rutgers. This game will be close as hell, but I believe a late-game field goal on a Nittany Lions turnover will give the Buckeyes yet another win over James Franklin’s squad.

Matt Noah (5-1): Penn State 21, Ohio State 20

Ohio State is currently an 18.5 favorite over Penn State, but this line is massively bloated. There is a fair chance that the Buckeyes will control from the start and blowout Penn State, especially if you consider the way they’ve been playing lately. However, I believe Penn State has the talent to pull off an upset.

The Buckeyes are high on themselves, yet the best teams they’ve faced are Wisconsin and Cincinnati. I think the Buckeyes believe this game will be a breeze for their team, but they have another thing coming.

Sean Clifford will need to be a dual-threat option and keep the Ohio State defense on its toes. As for defense, the Wild Dogs, mainly Yetur Gross-Matos, Shaka Toney, and Robert Windsor all need to stop the run game of J.K. Dobbins and Justin Fields, thus allowing the struggling secondary to focus on their assignments and receive more safety help. I’m calling a thriller in which Penn State hangs around throughout the game but eventually pulls out the win in dramatic fashion.

Samuel Brungo (5-1): Ohio State 35, Penn State 34

Penn State comes out strong and looks like it could upset Ohio State. Ohio State decides to make halftime adjustments, Penn State decides to do the same thing it did in the first half. Penn State loses to Ohio State by 1. I’ve heard this story before — twice.

I know Penn State has a chance to win this, but I just feel like this is going to be another version of the same story. It makes me sad to predict against the Nittany Lions. I hope they prove me wrong. I think they will compete and hold their own, surprise a lot of people, but I think this one goes to the Buckeyes. They have just looked so complete this season. State by 1… Ohio State that is…

Ryan Parsons (0-0): Penn State 24, Ohio State 21

Listen. I know what all the “analysts” are saying. I know what Vegas is saying. I know what the internet hive mind is saying. I know what other fans are saying, but none of that matters. At this point, I have completely convinced myself that Penn State will beat Ohio State on Saturday.

Games like this exist in a vacuum, and in the end, the contest will come down to guts, emotions, and #grit. Everyone is underestimating the ability that these two teams have to keep these games close despite the 18.5-point spread, which, by the way, was exactly the same in 2016.

Ryan Day’s biggest accolade — before being handed an already-wildly successful FBS program — was quarterback coaching Sam Bradford and the 7-9 Philadelphia Eagles under Chip Kelly in 2015. He’ll fumble over his play-sheet in a game like this.

Justin Fields, who always will have a soft spot for Happy Valley, has yet to show he has the clutch gene after he decommitted from Penn State to sit and watch the backups play while Ohio State rolled over nobody teams. Sean Clifford has already stepped up and led great drives when they mattered over Iowa, Indiana, and Michigan. Chase Young and the rest of the Buckeye defense has completed all four quarters just one time this season, and Young hasn’t played in the last two games. The Nittany Lions have played blue-collar, hard-nosed football every quarter in every game except for one.

The Nittany Lions’ offensive line, tight ends, wide receivers, and running back unit will be a different type of test for the Buckeye defense, as it will have to battle fatigue that it hasn’t seen all season.

Gabe Angieri (2-1): Ohio State 31, Penn State 14

This matchup will be the biggest challenge for each team this year and will have huge College Football Playoff implications. The game won’t be a complete blowout, but I think Ohio State will be able to beat the Nittany Lions without too much of a sweat. After what I saw from Penn State the last two weeks, I’m not convinced the team can go into Columbus and beat arguably the best team in the country.

The Ohio State defense is the best in the country and will give Sean Clifford and the rest of the offense issues. Justin Fields will have his way with the Penn State secondary, which has been a huge weakness in the past two weeks. This will put an end Penn State’s College Football Playoff aspirations, and quite possibly its Rose Bowl hopes too.

Jarod Kutz (3-1): Penn State 31, Ohio State 27

A long explanation to why Penn State is going to win on Saturday is not needed. The last time Penn State was a double-digit underdog heading into the Ohio State game, the Nittany Lions got it done.

The whole entire nation, maybe even the pickers above and below, think Ohio State is going to win. Football is a beautiful game, and it was made for moments just like this. Penn State, go get it, it is your time.

Jared Raggi (4-1): Ohio State 35, Penn State 30

It hurts. It truly does. But Ohio State is just too damn good. With respect to players like Troy Smith and JT Barrett, Justin Fields is the most talented quarterback to ever wear a Buckeye uniform. His touchdown-interception ratio is incredible, and the rest of his offense is nothing to scoff at. Ohio State’s defense is near the top of every metric you can test, and Chase Young could very well be the first pick in the upcoming NFL Draft.

Even though James Franklin wants to focus on 1-0 every week, I’ve circled this matchup since the start of the regular season. This game undoubtedly will determine the possibility of the College Football Playoff, and I just don’t believe the Nittany Lions have enough.

Saturday’s game will be much different than the game in Minnesota two weeks ago, as the Nittany Lions will come prepared. The Wild Dogs will be able to generate pressure and keep it close throughout most of the game. Eventually, the secondary will crack. Justin Fields and the offense will break through and a couple of late touchdowns will prove to be too much for the Penn State offense to overcome. Saturday will be a somber day for Nittany Lion fans around the country.

Rory Pelella (0-0): Penn State 28, Ohio State 24

I know most people won’t like this take. But something in my gut is telling me Penn State is going to pull this one off. I have all the faith in the world in Brent Pry’s defense and expect Micah Parsons, Shaka Toney, and Yetur Gross-Matos to create plenty of havoc for Justin Fields and Co. Saturday afternoon. At the end of the day, the Buckeye quarterback is going to wish he never made the wrong decision to decommit from Happy Valley.

Will Pegler (9-1): Penn State 37, Ohio State 34

Alright, folks. I’ve sat down and considered ways the Nittany Lions can somehow pull out a victory on Saturday, and after looking at history and just pure logic, I have decided that James Franklin’s squad will, in fact, leave Columbus with a win.

First of all, under James Franklin, the Nittany Lions have hung tight with the Buckeyes in all but one game. A lot of people will point to 2016’s legendary game as an example of Penn State pulling out an upset, but I’d rather look at the 2014 loss. The Nittany Lions lost this game 31-24, but the Christian Hackenberg-led squad took the Buckeyes all the way to double overtime. This was an Ohio State team, mind you, that went on to win the 2014 national championship by a score of 42-20 and had the likes of Ezekiel Elliot, JT Barrett, and Joey Bosa on the roster.

Franklin said he thinks this Ohio State team is most talented he’s ever seen for the Buckeyes, but I would argue that the 2014 squad was much more impressive. If a Penn State squad that finished 7-6 can take a team like that to double overtime, I don’t see why it can’t hang with a Buckeyes team with a first-year starting quarterback at the helm.

Speaking of Ohio State’s quarterback, Justin Fields is a beast, and there’s no chance in hell that Brent Pry’s defense is going to be able to shut him down completely. But, I think a few forced turnovers here and there throughout the game will be enough to give Penn State’s offense a chance to win.

As for Sean Clifford and Co., the unit will essentially need to execute perfectly on Saturday. Assuming Noah Cain and KJ Hamler play, I think the offense will have enough firepower to put up some big numbers on Ohio State’s defense. Clifford is, objectively, an absolute dawg, and has given Penn State fans (except for the Minnesota game) every reason to believe him. Why not give the guy a chance on Saturday?

If you’re still reading this, thank you. Here’s how I believe this game will finish in Penn State’s favor. The Nittany Lions have proven this season — for the first time in Franklin’s tenure — that they actually have the ability to run a four-minute offense late in the game. After a brutal, back-and-forth battle, I expect Penn State to have the ball with the game tied and under two minutes remaining. The offense will march all the way down the field, run the clock all the way down, and give Jake Pinegar just enough time to hit a game-winning field goal. The Nittany Lions escape Columbus with a 10-1 record and a wide-open path to the Big Ten Championship.

Mikey Mandarino (8-1): Ohio State 35, Penn State 21

Say what you want about the past few Ohio State-Penn State games being close, but I don’t think this contest will follow the same script. It’s impossible to ignore just how complete the Buckeyes are this year.

Talented teams are one thing, but complete teams are an entirely different animal. Ryan Day’s Buckeyes are right up there with the likes of LSU and Clemson as national title favorites, and I think they’ll have no problems dispatching a talented Penn State team at home on Saturday. I expect the final 35-21 final score to flatter the Nittany Lions a bit, a la Michigan-Wisconsin earlier this season.

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