Are college football fans and bettors underestimating Penn State this season? Matt Youmans of VSiN suggests they might be.
Youmans expects Penn State to go over its consensus 2022 win total of 8.5 games and has the potential to win 10. He also might be one of quarterback Sean Clifford’s biggest fans out there.
“I like Sean Clifford,” Youmans said in a recent interview from Las Vegas. “I really think he’s a pretty good quarterback who’s got some mobility and is a pretty accurate passer. And when you rank the quarterbacks in the Big Ten, I think he’s in the conversation for that No. 2 spot.”
VSiN ranks Penn State at No. 14 in its preseason power rankings, valuing the Lions much higher than the coaches poll. According to VSiN’s 2022 College Football Betting Guide, the Lions are preseason favorites in 10 games, holding a 5-point edge in the Sept. 1 opener at Purdue.
Youmans sees plenty of potential in Penn State, noting one factor that gives him pause: head coach James Franklin’s on gameday. Here’s our interview with Youmans.
Question: What’s your view of Penn State this season?
Matt Womens: I like Clifford and I think he’s going to give Penn State a chance to win basically every game on the schedule, including the Ohio State game. I think the most intriguing game early in the season is that Thursday night game against Purdue. You match up a couple of veteran quarterbacks in the Big Ten, Clifford against Aidan O’Connell. Right now, if I would rank the quarterbacks in the Big Ten, Clifford and O’Connell would be right there. I’m not sure who’d I rank No. 2 [behind Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud]. I guess whoever wins that game.
I really think Penn State has a chance to win nine, maybe 10 games if things break right. But you’ve got to win those early season games at Purdue and at Auburn. Those are two kind of tossup games on the road. I think Penn State is going to win one of them and might win both. I like their chances.
Question: What do you like about the Penn State-Purdue opener?
Youmans: I like Clifford a lot and I also like Purdue’s quarterback. I think it’s a great way to open the season in the Big Ten, and whoever wins that game could use it as a launching-pad game to send them off into a really good season. The team that wins that is probably going to go over its season win total.
Q: What about Penn State gives you pause this season?
Youmans: James Franklin gives me a little bit of pause, because he tends to sometimes have brain cracks in big games. I don’t think Franklin is an overachiever necessarily as a coach. There are some things I like about him. Obviously the guy can recruit. But in terms of a coach who makes a difference in those coin-flip games that you’ve got to win if you’re going to have 10-win seasons, James Franklin is not typically the type of guy I want to bet on. I’m also not sure if this Penn State defense is as dominant as some of the defenses that they’ve had in the past. Penn State is always going to have a good defense. This is going to be a good defense, but I’m not sure it’s going to be great.
Q: What’s the best bet in the Big Ten West?
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Youmans: It’s a cliché, but I do think the West is more wide open than it’s been in recent years. That’s because I don’t think Wisconsin is as good as it’s been, and the main reason I pause on Wisconsin is [quarterback] Graham Mertz. He has yet to prove he can be a big-time quarterback.
I know Iowa won the West last year, but I thought that was a little bit of a fluke at 7-2. And Nebraska is a team that’s getting a lot of respect from oddsmakers and the betting public — and maybe a little bit too much respect because Nebraska has a win total of 7.5, and Scott Frost has not had a winning season yet. But they did bring in a ton of talent and Casey Thompson, the transfer from Texas at quarterback, is going to make a big difference.
I think it’s five-team race in the West, and no team’s going to run away with it. But it’s definitely Wisconsin, Iowa, Purdue, Minnesota and Nebraska. You could throw those five teams in a hat based on past results. If I had to pick one team I like, I just don’t like to bet against Iowa. So I would probably play Iowa over its win total of 7.5 in terms of a best bet that I like because Kirk Ferentz has proven time and time again he can go over a number like 7.5 and he can win eight or nine games.
Q: Who challenges Ohio State in the Big Ten East?
Youmans: I don’t think Michigan was as good as it looked at the end of last season. That was a little bit of a fluke finish to the season, and also I thought they got exposed in the College Football Playoff. I don’t know if that was just a happy-to be-here game for Michigan, because they didn’t look like they belonged in the playoff, and I was very disappointed in their performance in that blowout loss [to Georgia]. So I guess I’ve got to hit the pause button a little bit on Michigan this season.
Michigan is still a team that could beat Ohio State and win the East, but I’m not sold that what happened at the end of last year was the buy sign. I’m not counting on Michigan being a team that could win the Big Ten. I think Penn State is right there. I don’t believe that Penn State is any worse than Michigan. I don’t see any reason that Penn State can’t be the second-best team overall in the Big Ten.
Q: It sounds like you’re higher on Penn State than others. Why?
Youmans: I think Penn State could be the second-best team in the Big Ten overall, not just in the East. If you put Penn State in the West, right now I think it would have to be a co-favorite with Wisconsin to win. Maybe I have a higher opinion of Sean Clifford as a quarterback than most people do, but I really do like Clifford. I think he can win a lot of games for you. And I’ll always respect the talent in that program. If you talk to anybody who knows college football — even some of the college football coaches I know — they all rave about James Franklin being an incredible recruiter.
When I look at all the Big Ten quarterbacks, and I love to evaluate quarterback talent, I think Sean Clifford could be the No. 2 quarterback in the Big Ten. You have to give Stroud No. 1 right now, but I think Clifford could be No. 2. And that’s the main thing I like about Penn State. And also as I said, the overall talent level of the program is outstanding. It always is.
If Clifford doesn’t go down in that Iowa game [last year], they win that game, and there’s no freaking way they lose to Illinois, and that’s where everything just went south. That Penn State team was a lot better than that 7-6 record indicated, and that’s why I think that some people are sleeping on Penn State a little bit this season. A lot of people don’t have as high an opinion of Clifford as I do, and maybe that’s why I think you can find a little bit more value in a Penn State team than the oddsmakers and the bettors think at this point.
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AllPennState is the place for Penn State news, opinion and perspective on the SI.com network. Publisher Mark Wogenrich has covered Penn State for more than 20 years, tracking three coaching staffs, three Big Ten titles and a catalog of great stories. Follow him on Twitter @MarkWogenrich. And consider subscribing (button’s on the home page) for more great content across the SI.com network.