James Franklin tunnel walk

Penn State head coach James Franklin and his team take the field for their NCAA college football game against Ball State in State College, Pa.,on Saturday, Sept.11, 2021.Penn State defeated Ball State 44-13.(AP Photo/Barry Reeger)

  • No. 22 Auburn (2-0) travels to Happy Valley to take on No. 10 Penn State (2-0) at 7:30 pm ET Saturday on ABC
  • The Tigers have beaten a pair of cupcakes (Akron and Alabama State) by a combined score of 122-10 in their first two games, while the Nittany Lions have handled Wisconsin and Ball State to also start the season undefeated
  • See game odds, analysis and a prediction by scrolling below

Just how rare is Saturday’s SEC vs. Big Ten matchup between No. 22 Auburn and No. 10 Penn State? It’s only the third time a ranked SEC team will play a Big Ten program in a true road game, ever.

The other two occasions were ten years ago, when Alabama played at Beaver Stadium, and in 1965, when Georgia played Michigan in the Big House.

ESPN’s College GameDay will also be in State College for the Whiteout game in what promises to be an electric atmosphere.

It’s the furthest north the Tigers have traveled since playing at Syracuse in 2001. Aaccording to ESPN’s College Football Power Index, this is a top-10 game – with Penn State being ranked No. 8 and Auburn at No. 10.

Auburn vs Penn State Odds

Team Spread Moneyline Total
Auburn Tigers +6 (-110) +185 O 53 (-105)
Penn State Nittany Lions -6 (-110) -225 U 53 (-115)

Odds as of September 15th from DraftKings

James Franklin’s Nits were installed as an early touchdown favorite on the opening line, and those odds have shortened a little to currently a six-point spread as the week has wore on.

Long Way From Boise

So far, so good in Year 1 of the Bryan Harsin Era on the Plains. But after a 60-10 win against Akron to open the season and a 62-0 shellacking of Alabama State in Week 2, the level of competition steps up considerably for the former Boise State head coach in his first road game since taking over the Tigers program from Gus Malzahn.

Auburn’s 56-point average margin of victory leads the FBS. But the Zips are 1-19 since 2019, and the Hornets are an FCS program that hasn’t had a winning season since 2015.

Even with a 62-point win, there were a few red flags in Week 2. To wit, Auburn’s first two drives ended with field goals, the Tigers fumbled late in the second quarter and Harsin’s crew committed seven first-half penalties.

Jarquez Hunter’s 94-yard touchdown run – along with two trips to pay dirt by wide receiver Demetris Robertson – busted open a 35-point third quarter. But, those first-half issues can’t linger against Penn State if Auburn wants to pull off the mild upset.

Auburn quarterback Bo Nix is similar to Penn State QB Sean Clifford on multiple fronts, which will help the Nittany Lions in preparation. Nix and Clifford are both third-year starters. Physically, they’re very similar (Clifford is 6-2, 219 and Nix is 6-3, 214).

Each signal-callers’ career completion rates (Clifford 60.3%, Nix 59.5%) and career rushing numbers (Clifford has 237 carries for 805 yards, Nix 210 carries for 731 yards) are nearly identical.

Neither has thrown a pick this season, but Nix hasn’t faced a secondary remotely close to Penn State’s. Nix is also 3-8 against ranked opponents and 1-5 in true road games vs. ranked teams during his career.

Home Field Advantage

Franklin unleashed a variety of different offensive sets in last week’s 44-13 win over Ball State. Typically, coaches go vanilla in tune-up games ahead of big ones to avoid putting stuff on tape for their next opponent to prepare for. But the 49-year-old highly-respected coach must have plenty more up his sleeve for War Eagle.

The Lions had a balanced attack against the Cardinals, rushing for 240 yards and passing for 253. They also had 32 first downs and spread the ball around, completing passes to 10 different receivers.

After a 95-play day against the Badgers in Madison, rush end Arnold Ebiketie, safety Jaquan Brisker, and tackle PJ Mustipher (all key players for Penn State’s defense) were able to play less snaps against Ball State – and rest up for Auburn.

Penn State’s turnover margin so far (+5) has been exemplary, but their red-zone offense has not (only three touchdowns in seven trips). One more nugget to keep an eye on when it comes to field position: PSU punter Jordan Stout leads the Big Ten, ranking second nationally in punting average (53.10), including two over 60 yards.

Whiteout Blowout?

I’m not calling for a demolition. But when you look at numerous factors coming into this one, it appears Auburn is vastly overmatched on a number of fronts.

When you factor Nix’s wholly lackluster record away from Jordan-Hare, it gets even more dicey for the Tigers’ chances. Penn State is simply ahead of Auburn at this point in this season, and should be ahead of Harsin’s crew on the scoreboard Saturday.

  • The pick: Penn State -6 (-110)
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Blair Johnson

Sports Writer


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