Counter to advanced metrics, public betting Notre Dame, Penn State in Saturday’s early bowl games

Note Dame head coach Brian Kelly Sept. 14, 2019 (AP Photo Paul Sancya)
Note Dame head coach Brian Kelly (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
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The public is betting favorites Notre Dame and Penn State against the spread in Saturday’s early bowl games like it’s free money, but ESPN’s SP+ advanced metric system is projecting the underdogs to keep both games close.

Camping World Bowl: Notre Dame vs. Iowa State betting lines and analysis

Kickoff: Noon ET/11 a.m. CT, ABC in Orlando
Opening lines: Notre Dame -3.5, 57
Lines as of Thursday: Notre Dame -3.5, 54.5
Betting records: ND 10-2 SU, 8-4 ATS; ISU 7-5 SU, 5-6 ATS
Notable trend: Matt Campbell is 18-8-1 ATS as an underdog since taking over at Iowa State in 2016.
SP+ pick: Notre Dame 28-25

Analysis: Iowa State is 1-4-1 ATS in its past six games, and the betting public wants little to do with the Cyclones, who are getting less than 35% of tickets, according to Sports Insights as of Thursday’s writing. But Iowa State was favored in all four of those ATS losses, as well as in the push. Catching points with an offense than ranks 11th nationally in Explosive Drive rate and a QB in Brock Purdy who is fifth in passing yards, the chance of at least a backdoor cover is high.

While Notre Dame’s rush defense has improved as the season has rolled along, a dynamic offense — which the Irish haven’t faced since a 45-14 loss at Michigan — can give this unit fits. The Iowa State offense embraces spread sets and RPOs, and will test the Irish secondary that ranks No. 2 nationally in opponent passes over 20 yards.

Notre Dame knows what to expect from the ‘Clones, but the same can’t be said on the other side of the ball. Coach Brian Kelly, who has covered the point spread just twice in 11 bowl games in his career, fired offensive coordinator Chip Long after the regular season, leaving a pair of assistants to call the plays for the Camping World Bowl. While QB Ian Book hasn’t turned the ball over in his past three games, Notre Dame hasn’t faced an FEI defense as good as Iowa State since he was a pedestrian 18-of-32 for 181 yards and two picks against Duke. He threw four touchdowns that day, but none over 20 yards. A similar Virginia Tech defense also gave Book trouble in a 21-20 comeback home win on Nov. 2.

Handicapping motivation is important in bowl season, and we have to wonder if Notre Dame is pumped up to play in sunny Florida after missing out on a New Year’s Six Bowl. Iowa State isn’t exactly a program to get Kelly’s team excited, but this is a get-up game for Iowa State against a storied program.

With the point spread down to 3 in some spots, we’ll be looking to take the ‘dog and the hook with Iowa State at +3.5.

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Cotton Bowl: Memphis vs. Penn State betting lines and analysis

Kickoff: Noon ET/11 a.m. CT, ESPN in Arlington
Lines as of Thursday: Penn State -7.5, 60.5
Current: Penn State -7, 60.5
Betting records: MEM 12-1 SU, 8-5 ATS; PSU 10-2 SU, 6-6 ATS
Notable trend: Seven of James Franklin’s eight bowl games have gone OVER the total.
SP+ pick: Penn State 30-26

Analysis: Initial sharp money came in on the Tigers, pushing the line from 7.5 at Caesars to 6.5, but the spread was back to 7.5 as of Thursday’s writing. Across the market, nearly 70% of tickets is backing Penn State.

With Memphis coach Mike Norvell taking over at Florida State, the Tigers don’t have a coach on staff with history as an offensive play-caller. Offensive line coach/run game coordinator Ryan Silverfield was named the team’s new head coach, so he’s expected to carry over Norvell’s scheme that resulted 40.5 points per game. The Tigers rank No. 8 in SP+ offense but faces Penn State’s eight-ranked SP+ defense in a strength-on-strength matchup.

The Nittany Lions gave up just 14.1 points per game this season, but against teams that pass the ball with success like Memphis, it has shown lapses in the secondary, particularly against Indiana and Minnesota. Damonte Coxie (1,425 yards, 9 TDs) and Antonio Gibson (636 yards, 8 TDs) are a pair of big Memphis WRs we expect will have success and help keep the game close.

While Penn State is a top-10 defensive unit, it is 59th nationally in first down rate — the percentage of opponent offensive drives that result in a touchdown or at least one first down, per Football Outsiders. Memphis should have the ability to win the field position battle, an important metric considering Penn State is 83rd in busted drive rate. Creating a long field for Penn State is paramount for the Tigers and their 124th-ranked red zone defense.

Penn State’s offense didn’t end the regular season on a high note, managing 17 points against Ohio State and just 13 through three quarters against Rutgers, as freshman Will Levis took over for an injured Sean Clifford under center. While Clifford is expected to be ready for the Cotton Bowl, Ricky Rahne, the Nittany Lions’ offensive coordinator for the past two seasons, will not after taking the head coaching job at Old Dominion. Penn State turns to tight ends coach Tyler Bowen to call plays against the Tigers.

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