Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram is still recovering from knee surgery.
Defensive end Marcell Dareus is out serving the final game of his suspension. Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram is also likely out as he recovers from knee surgery. Yet Alabama is a double-digit favorite over Penn State Saturday night at Tuscaloosa. That says a lot about the talent pool coach Nick Saban has assembled in T-Town.
Most offshore books opened Alabama as 9 ½-point college football odds favorites, with the ‘total’ set at 45. Kickoff is scheduled for 4 p.m. PT with ESPN broadcasting the clash.
The Big Ten takes a lot of grief in SEC circles after Ohio State wet the bed in back-to-back BCS National Championship Games, but this year’s Big Ten is better than it has been in years. The Nittany Lions can compete for the conference crown, which makes them anything but a pushover.
After devouring a non-conference slate of cupcakes in each of the last two years, Penn State should be commended for adding an elite program to the 2010 schedule and renewing an intersectional rivalry against the Crimson Tide. It’s also the Nittany Lions’ first non-bowl game against the SEC since joining the Big Ten. Coach Joe Paterno is 5-2 against the conference in bowls since 1993.
'Bama was balanced in the pass and run and spectacular in execution against San Jose State last week and appears ready and worthy of a No. 1 ranking.
Alabama hasn’t lost at home since Saban’s first season in Tuscaloosa, an embarrassing 21-14 loss to Louisiana-Monroe. Since that meltdown, the Tide has won 15 in a row at home. And in those 15 games they’ve have allowed more than 15 points only once, a 24-21 win over Ole Miss during the 2008 season. Ten times during the streak, they’ve held teams to a touchdown or fewer. In fact, in their last seven home outings, Alabama has allowed a total of three touchdowns.
This is a Penn State team that will probably drive the old-school Paterno nuts—one that makes outstanding plays here or there mixed with mistakes and mental lapses that are the product of an inexperienced roster.
Having running back Evan Royster and Stephfon Green and dependable wide receivers will help the development of young quarterback Robert Bolden, but the Nittany Lions had trouble protecting the passer against quality defenses last year, and the offensive line doesn’t figure to improve by leaps and bounds.
The most critical matchup is the Penn State offensive line against the front seven of Alabama.
Bolden showed good poise and made strong decisions in the season-opening win over Youngstown State, but he’ll likely fall victim to some mistakes against 'Bama.
The defense is really what carried the Tide last season. This year, the focus will switch to the other side of the ball, where Alabama returns eight starters.
Quarterback Greg McElroy will be asked to do more than make plays when necessary and protect the football. The former Texas high school standout still hasn’t lost a start since middle school after going 14-for-14 during his first season as a replacement for three-year starter John Parker Wilson.
However, McElroy hasn’t thrived against top competition. He completed 68 percent of his passes with 13 touchdowns and no interceptions against unranked opponents in ’09. His percentage dropped to 52.4 and he threw as many picks (four) as touchdowns versus six Top 25 teams.
The game could easily be won or lost through the air. Alabama allowed a national-low five rushing scores last season, while Penn State yielded six to tie for second fewest.
The Nittany Lions have lost and failed in five of their last six clashes with Top 10 teams. In addition, they have come up short ATS in their last four non-conference contests and in their last six in September.
Penn State is 6-10 ATS away from home against ranked teams and 9-13 as road short-enders. They have also gone 3-12 ATS on the highway after allowing less than 10 points. On a positive note, the Nittany Lions are 7-1 ATS as dogs versus SEC foes.
Alabama has ‘covered’ seven of eight in September and four of five at home. The Tide is 7-3 ATS off a SU win by 20 points or more and 5-0 ATS after scoring more than 35 points versus a non-conference rival.
Alabama has failed at a 32-21-1 clip as double-digit favorites and dropped 36 of 61 as home ‘chalk.’
Penn State has zipped ‘over’ in five of its last six road games, but ended on the low side in four straight non-conference tests and in five straight against the SEC.
The Tide has been high at a 6-1-1 pace in September and at a 5-0-1 rate versus non-conference tenants.