Sept. 7 NCAA Football Picks and Preview — Buffalo (1-0) at No. 15 Penn State (1-0)

(Sean Clifford photo courtesy Matt O’Haren/USA TODAY Sports)

This is the full preview(s) as seen on the Winners and Whiners and Stat Salt websites. The confidence rating for all picks on a scale from 1 to 5 is in parentheses.

Note: The 5/5 does NOT represent the best overall pick of the day’s games when there are multiple games, simply the best pick(s) from each individual game.

When and Where: Saturday, Sept. 7, Beaver Stadium, State College, Pa., 7:30 p.m. EDT.

After an absolute demolition job in its season opener, 15th-ranked Penn State could get a more stern challenge in its second game Saturday when it hosts Buffalo.

The Nittany Lions barely broke a sweat in a 79-7 pummeling of Idaho, rolling up its most points since an 81-0 thrashing of Cincinnati in 1991. In the first game of the post-Trace McSorley era, Sean Clifford had an effective season debut under center with 280 yards and two TD passes in just over a half of work.

Deyvn Ford had an 81-yard touchdown run and finished with a team-high 107 as Penn State churned out 673 yards of total offense in balanced fashion with 341 in the air and 332 on the ground. Sophomore receiver KJ Hamler caught both of Clifford’s scoring tosses and finished with four receptions for 115 yards.

Penn State is looking to extend a 15-game non-conference home winning streak in which it has averaged 40.8 points while outscoring opponents by 28.7 per contest.

The Bulls will take a huge step up in caliber of competition after defeating FCS foe Robert Morris 38-10 on Aug. 29. Matt Myers directed Buffalo’s read-option offense efficiently, finishing with 106 total yards and two passing touchdowns. Running backs Jarret Patterson and Kevin Marks combined for 165 yards on 25 carries as Buffalo converted 7 of 11 on third down.

Though Buffalo is coming off its first 10-win season since making the jump to FBS in 1999, it has just one victory in 14 games versus AP Top 25 teams in school history — including an 0-10 mark in true road games in which it has allowed 43.2 points per game.

Bulls trying to figure out how to attack Penn State ‘D’

The Bulls will most assuredly throw the ball more than the 10 times — their fewest pass attempts in 15 years — they did against overmatched FCS foe Robert Morris in their season-opening win, but moving the ball could prove challenging if top returning receiver Antonio Nunn is sidelined a second straight week with a leg injury.

It is hard to call Nunn a game-breaker, though, since he totaled 12 receptions for 142 yards last season. Tight end Zac Lefebrve was the only player with more than one catch last weekend as he hauled in both of Myers’ scoring tosses, and two of the other three receptions resulted in a combined one yard.

Buffalo coach Lance Leipold took the blame for the play-calling imbalance, noting he did not feel the Bulls had good enough field position to open the playbook early in the second half.

“I probably should have called more,” Leipold told the Buffalo News. “I probably should have insisted it. But the game, and controlling things, didn’t always play out that way. It just kind of worked out that way, and we’ll hopefully have more to show there.”

While Patterson and Marks shined in Buffalo’s RPO-based offense, Myers knows the Bulls will be in for a severe challenge after Penn State bottled up Idaho’s ground game and limited the Vandals to four yards on 28 rushes.

“They fly around the ball,” he said of Penn State’s defense. “They hit hard, they’re tough and they’re a great defense. We’ve got to be on all cylinders, and we’ll be ready.”

Buffalo is facing its first AP Top 25 opponent since losing 38-0 at then-No. 14 Western Michigan on Nov. 19, 2016. One of their 13 all-time losses to ranked foes came in a 45-24 defeat to Penn State in Happy Valley in 2007.

Either way, this is a huge challenge for the Bulls on both sides of the ball.

“The team speed is there. I’m really impressed with their length and athleticism,” Leipold said this week. “The combination of the two is what really makes it a huge challenge for us. You can definitely see a change in where they are as a program.

Franklin looking for Nittany Lions to clean up small details after thorough victory

There was plenty for coach James Franklin to like about his team’s decimation of Idaho. The Nittany Lions were able to get plenty of reps for second-string quarterback Will Levis, who completed 11 of 14 passes for 62 yards and a touchdown, and seven different running backs got at least five carries — with five of them hitting paydirt.

Thirteen different players caught at least one pass and both kickers got plenty of work — Jake Pinegar converted all 10 of his extra points and two field goals, while specialist Jordan Stout recorded 12 touchbacks on his 13 kickoffs and drilled a 53-yard field goal.

About the only place Franklin could find fault was on third down, where the Nittany Lions were just 1 for 8 and still racked up 35 first downs.

Obviously we’ve got to be better on 3rd down, there’s no doubt about it,” Franklin said at his weekly press conference. “Although offensively we didn’t put the ball on the ground, the ball was in jeopardy a few times. We just didn’t have it as high and tight as I would like to see. So we’ve got to be better there.”

Franklin also isn’t taking much stock in what he saw on tape from Buffalo’s win because he is unsure if the Bulls will stick to the run-heavy look they showed against Robert Morris.

“Did they do that because it was the first game and they didn’t feel like they needed to, did they not do that because they had a first-year redshirt freshman starting quarterback and they just did not want to put too much on his plate,” Franklin asked rhetorically while offering praise for Buffalo’s cohesion on the offensive line. “That’s what you’re not sure of, and these early season games can be challenging like that.”

The Nittany Lions have won 15 straight home games against non-ranked, non-conference opponents since a 34-31 loss to UCF on Sept. 14, 2013. Penn State has averaged 40.8 points in those victories and scored at least 30 points on 12 occasions.

This might be a tougher test than expected, especially compared to last week. But if Franklin has a chance to run up the score, he’ll do it with his backups. But he’s not going to just have those backups sit back and not play aggressive.

“I know there’s a lot of different discussions about scoring and these types of games and things like that, but it’s my belief that you get the backups in the game and you allow them to play,” Franklin said. “I think they deserve that opportunity.”

Notable Trends

Penn State is:

  • 13-2-1 ATS in its last 16 games after scoring 40 or more points in the previous game.
  • 22-5-1 ATS in its last 28 games following a straight up win.
  • 12-3-1 ATS in its last 16 games following a straight up win by 21 or more points.

Buffalo is:

  • 1-4 ATS in its last five games.
  • 7-18-1 ATS in its last 26 road games vs. teams with an above-.500 home record.

*****5-Star Pick*****

Penn State -29.5 (-110)

This line has spiked 7.5 points higher since opening with the Nittany Lions as 22-point favorites, so the suggestion is to lock in this number before it tests 30 and higher. While Penn State’s offense looked magnificent in overwhelming Idaho, the feeling is the defense will carry the day more in this contest. The Nittany Lions have the defensive team speed to shut down Buffalo at the point of attack in its RPO system and also the personnel to contain Lefebvre on passing plays.

This line did climb another two points and has a dangerous hook at 31.5 points. Hopefully you got in real early on this one or relatively early. The Nittany Lions have enough offense to cover this number, but it will be far more interesting if that line holds.

****4-Star Pick****

Penn State -20.5 1st half (-110)

The feeling is the Nittany Lions learned their lessons with regards to scheduling after Appalachian State gave them all they could handle last year and nearly left Happy Valley with a win. The suggestion is to lock in this number with the hook on the low side before it goes to three touchdowns flat or the hook switches to the high side.

***3-Star Picks***

OVER 56 points (-110)

The over is trending strongly with Penn State, most notably riding a seven-game run in non-conference play heading into this contest. The over is also 15-6 in its last 21 games and 9-2 coming off a game when the Nittany Lions roll up at least 200 rushing yards.

The over also has followed Buffalo well on the road, hitting in six of its last eight such contests. The over sports a 4-0-1 mark in the Bulls’ last five games versus above-.500 teams and has hit in the last four following a Buffalo win.

While 79 points for a second straight week in Happy Valley is unlikely, the Nittany Lions should eclipse 40 and land somewhere in the 50-point vicinity to help carry the over to a win.

This number also has a hook on the high side, clicking one-half point higher, but again there should be enough offense here where Penn State delivers.

Penn State OVER 42.5 points (-110)

The hook was a hindrance to being overly aggressive with this pick — it has climbed 1.5 points to 44 — but Penn State has scored 45 or more points in six of its last seven non-conference home games. The Bulls yielded 42 or more on four occasions last season, and none of those four opponents were in the same class as the Nittany Lions.

OVER 31 points 1st half (-110)

A confidence pick in the Nittany Lions offense picking up where it left off against Idaho, with the belief the Bulls could contribute one score to help the cause. Penn State has averaged 27.7 points in its last six non-conference home games after piling up 44 on the Vandals last weekend.

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