No. 20 Houston vs. No. 24 Penn State
Jan. 2, Noon ET, ESPNU
This prediction comes courtesy of Marc Doche (@MDoche) from the ever dependable P101 satellite office in Burbank, Calif.
What the Cougars did on the field in the Conference USA championship game against Southern Miss demonstrated that they are not BCS-worthy.
Now, they find themselves facing an opponent similar to what they would have faced in the Sugar Bowl, a team that’s likely to outclass them in what will be their first game without coach Kevin Sumlin, who was hired by Texas A&M.
With the Nittany Lions (9-3) dropping two of their last three games, dashing hopes of a berth in the Big Ten championship game, distraction and disappointment is a similar theme for both teams.
While Penn State owns a 14-0-1 mark versus C-USA opponents, Houston (12-1) has the benefit of playing down the road in Dallas. But the Cougars’ top-ranked aerial attack led by sixth-year quarterback Case Keenum faces its toughest test of the season against a Nittany Lion defense that ranks fifth in the nation, allowing just 162 yards per game through the air.
Having averaged less than 13 points per game over its final four contests, Penn State’s offense will be hard-pressed to extend the margin against what has primarily been a respectable Cougar defense. However, that doesn’t mean the Cougs can win a rugged battle to improve upon their 4-8 record against the Big Ten.
Opening point spread: Houston by 7
The pick: Penn State 27-21
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