No. 13 Penn State (10-2) and No. 15 Memphis (12-1) meet in the Cotton Bowl Classic on Saturday. Game time is scheduled for noon ET at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The game will be nationally televised on ESPN.
Penn State finished second in the Big Ten East with a 7-2 conference record. A win in the Cotton Bowl would secure the Nittany Lions’ third 11-win season in four years under coach James Franklin, but only their third bowl win (and second in the New Year’s Day 6).
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Memphis, meanwhile, earned Group of 5 representation for the New Year’s bowls by going 12-1 and winning the American Athletic Conference by beating Cincinnati in consecutive weeks (winning 34-24 in the regular season and 29-24 in the AAC championship game). A win here would secure what is already the Tigers’ best season in program history.
Here’s everything to know about betting on Penn State vs. Memphis, including updated odds, trends and our prediction for the Cotton Bowl Classic.
Penn State vs. Memphis odds for Cotton Bowl 2019
Spread: Penn State -6.5
Point total: 60.5
Moneyline: Penn State -250, Memphis +210
Penn State is a 6.5-point favorite according to Sports Insider. The line opened at -7.5 in favor of the Nittany Lions.
Penn State vs. Memphis all-time series
This is the first meeting between Penn State and Memphis. The Nittany Lions are 2-0-1 all-time in the Cotton Bowl; this is the Tigers’ first appearance in this bowl. The Tigers are 4-7 all-time in bowl games.
Three trends to know
— The Nittany Lions are 6-6 this season against the spread, and 5-6 when favored; the Tigers are 8-5 against the spread, having never been the underdog all season.
— Penn State is 3-2 against the spread in bowl games since James Franklin took over in 2014, and 5-3 in neutral-site games.
— The Tigers are 3-8 against the spread as underdogs since Mike Norvell took over in 2016. They are 2-9 straight up as underdogs.
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Three things to watch
Sean Clifford’s accuracy
Clifford completed only 33 of 60 passes (55 percent) in losses against Minnesota and Ohio State. He only threw for one touchdown, compared to three interceptions. He has 21 touchdowns and three interceptions in the Nittany Lions’ 10 wins. How will he play against a Tigers secondary that allows 200.7 passing yards per game and 14 touchdowns to 10 interceptions all season?
Penn State’s pass rush
Penn State’s three leading pass-rushers (Yetur Gross-Matos, Shaka Toney and second-team All-American linebacker Micah Parsons) have combined for 32.5 tackles for loss and 17.5 sacks this season. Memphis has allowed 21 sacks all season, or roughly 1.5 per game. If that trio can get after quarterback Brady White, they can adversely affect his impressive efficiency this season (3,560 passing yards, 33 touchdowns to nine interceptions).
Kenneth Gainwell’s success
Gainwell, SN’s second-team All-American athlete, enters this game as the eighth-best rusher in the FBS at 1,425 yards and 12 touchdowns. But he has only combined for 4.0 yards per carry in the Tigers’ last two wins, both against Cincinnati. Considering he’s going against one of college football’s best rushing defenses (2.6 yards per attempt), Norvell will need to find more ways to get him involved in the offensive game plan. He also has 44 receptions for 532 yards and three touchdowns.
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Stat that matters
Penn State has the nation’s fifth-best rush defense, allowing 97.7 yards per game on the ground, and has only allowed two 100-yard rushers all season, against Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins (157 yards) and Rutgers’ Isaiah Pacheco (102 yards). That doesn’t bode well for Gainwell, who must be included in the Tigers’ game plan in some way to keep them from becoming one-dimensional. Memphis should drop back to pass more than usual, meaning the offensive line must protect White against the Nittany Lions’ pass rush.
Penn State vs. Memphis prediction
Memphis will come out looking to get on the board early, so don’t be surprised if Norvell breaks out a couple of trick plays to catch Penn State off guard. That may work once or twice, but Memphis overall will be overmatched against both the Nittany Lions’ offensive and defensive lines. The Tigers will be within striking distance at halftime, but the offense, led by big games from Clifford, receiver KJ Hamler and running back Journey Brown will pull away in the second half.
Penn State 38, Memphis 27