Penn State football coach Joe Paterno is in the final years of a great career. It might be his last year. But he’s also overseeing one of his best teams.
The Nittany Lions have been impressive in all phases of the game while compiling an 8-0 record, and they face their toughest test of the season tonight in Columbus, Ohio.
Senior quarterback Daryll Clark and sophomore running back Evan Royster lead a balanced Penn State offense that averages more than 200 yards per game both running and passing.
Ohio State benefited from five Michigan State turnovers in last week’s 45-7 romp. The previous week, the Buckeyes’ one-dimensional offense was held without a touchdown in a 16-3 home victory over Purdue.
If the Nittany Lions can avoid turnovers in this big road test, they can cover as 2-point favorites and boost their national title hopes.
Other selections for today’s games (home team in CAPS):
• NORTH CAROLINA (-2) over Boston College: The Tar Heels return home after losing for the 14th straight time at Virginia. North Carolina was doomed by three turnovers in a 16-13 overtime loss. Boston College defeated Virginia Tech 28-23 despite the inconsistent play of quarterback Chris Crane, who threw two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns.
• Illinois (-21/2) over WISCONSIN: The Badgers have fallen from No. 8 in the nation to the bottom of the Big Ten with an 0-4 record. Quarterback Allan Evridge was benched last week at Iowa in favor of Dustin Sherer, who again will start for Wisconsin. Illini junior Juice Williams is one of the country’s most improved quarterbacks by adding increased passing accuracy to his mobility.
• Duke (+101/2) over VANDERBILT: The hardest game to win is the one to be bowl eligible for the first time in 26 years. This is what Vanderbilt hopes to accomplish today against Duke. The Commodores, hurt by a passing game that averages only 96 yards, struggle to score.
• Alabama (-5) over TENNESSEE: The Crimson Tide seems to play its best games away from home, as evidenced by victories over Clemson and Georgia this season. Steady senior quarterback John Parker Wilson is the key to the road success. Florida blew out the Volunteers in Knoxville, and the Vols barely beat Northern Illinois, 13-9.
• Ucla (+18) over CALIFORNIA: The Golden Bears continue to juggle quarterbacks, with Kevin Riley and Nate Longshore falling in and out of favor with coach Jeff Tedford. California blew a 24-14 halftime lead in last week’s loss at Arizona.
Bruins quarterback Kevin Craft led his team on an 87-yard drive in the final 2:23 to nip Stanford 23-20, and Craft should make enough plays to keep this within the number.
• Virginia (+14) over GEORGIA TECH: The “Groh Must Go” signs referring to Cavaliers coach Al Groh are nowhere to be found after Virginia’s third straight win over a quality opponent. The Cavs are getting improved production from running back Cedric Peerman and new quarterback Marc Verica. Georgia Tech is solid, but Virginia can keep it close.
• Unr (-3) over HAWAII: The Wolf Pack lost a 28-26 game at home last year on a 45-yard field goal, keeping alive Hawaii’s undefeated season. UNR quarterback Colin Kaepernick is the trigger man in coach Chris Ault’s “Pistol” offense, a modified version of the shotgun.
Last week, the Warriors’ version of the run-and-shoot offense looked like the “chuck-and-duck” as Hawaii quarterback Inoke Funaki tossed five interceptions.
Last week: 4-1 against the spread
Barry Holthaus, a handicapper for VegasInsider.com, is providing college football analysis for the Review-Journal this season. He can be heard on “Leroy’s Sports Hour” at 10 p.m. Saturdays on KLAV-AM (1230).