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Ride hot hand of Penn State’s James Franklin

Members of the two highest-ranked Big Ten teams in the latest College Football Playoff rankings — No. 2 Ohio State and No. 5 Michigan — will be watching on television Saturday night as the league’s two division winners slug it out in Indianapolis.

With the final four set to be announced Sunday, the Buckeyes are considered a virtual lock to make the tournament, while the Wolverines’ path to the playoff field is unclear and likely dependent on a handful of favorable outcomes this weekend.

In the wacky world of college football, the league’s division winners — sixth-ranked Wisconsin and seventh-ranked Penn State — are meeting in the Big Ten championship.

Penn State coach James Franklin, who has gone from the hot seat to the playoff conversation almost overnight, was asked earlier this week whether he believes a major conference champion should be given extra consideration in the playoff argument.

“To be honest with you, I don’t really have a strong opinion,” said Franklin, who believes his league could be tops in the nation this season.

“I’ve been fortunate to coach as a head coach in the SEC (at Vanderbilt) and the Big Ten,” he said, “and I think you can make the argument that the Big Ten is stronger than any conference in the country.”

While a prominent Las Vegas handicapper suggested on social media this week that 11 teams would currently be favored over Penn State, the Nittany Lions have been a moneymaker for their backers by covering seven straight games by an average of almost 19 points. The highlight of that run was a 24-21 victory over Ohio State as a 19-point home underdog on Oct. 22.

Sometimes a handicapper simply needs to ride a hot hand until it runs out of steam. Take Penn State as a 3-point underdog to extend its cover streak to eight games.

Four more plays for Saturday (home team in CAPS):

New Mexico State-SOUTH ALABAMA (Under 58) — Injuries have plagued both of these Sun Belt Conference foes in recent weeks, but most fall on the offensive side, most notably two starters missing from South Alabama’s offensive line. For New Mexico State, quarterback Tyler Rogers will miss his second straight game due to an elbow injury, and junior college transfer Conner Cramer is a significant dropoff.

Louisiana-Lafayette (-6½) over LOUISIANA-MONROE — Louisiana-Lafayette quarterback Anthony Jennings, who recorded a 9-4 mark in 13 starts over three seasons at Louisiana State before transferring, is starting to find his groove for the Ragin Cajuns. Louisiana-Monroe lost starting quarterback Garrett Smith to a mid-season injury, and a bad team got worse.

NAVY (-2½) over Temple — Temple’s defense has been sound in recent seasons under rising coach Matt Ruhle. The triple option has been the Owls’ kryptonite, however. In 2014, Navy rushed for 487 yards in a 31-24 victory at Temple. In this year’s season opener, Army rushed for 334 yards in its road upset of the Owls.

Virginia Tech (+10½) over Clemson — With a spot in the playoff within No. 3 Clemson’s reach, the natural reaction by the public is to side with the Tigers. But Virginia Tech dual threat quarterback Jerod Evans has developed nicely and could surpass 4,000 yards of total offense for the season.

Last week: 5-1 against the spread

Season: 37-44-1

Paul Stone of VegasSportsAuthority.com is providing college football analysis for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Follow @paulstonesports on Twitter.

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