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Penn State Football: The Unlikely Odds of 17-1/2 and Matt McGloin

by on November 09, 2010 11:32 PM

What are the odds…

...that Vegas, which has set Ohio State as a 17-1/2 point favorite against Penn State on Saturday, is wrong?

Let’s ask Vegas.

“We haven’t had a lot of action on that game,” says Jeff Stoneback, sports book manager for The Mirage in Las Vegas, Nev. “If there’s not a lot of action on that game, it means the line is a good one. If there were action, it would mean we made a mistake. Also, it’s early in the week; it’s only Tuesday.”

Stoneback, who hails from Seattle, has been at The Mirage for the past five years and, he says, “it beats having a real job.”

A couple of factors went into setting the line at such a high number, Stoneback says. “Bottom-line, though, going into Ohio State is a tough match-up for Penn State.”

Even though Penn State is 6-3 and riding a three-game winning streak, Stoneback said the experts at The Mirage looked at the Lions’ track record for all of 2010. The Lions lost to Alabama (24-3), Iowa (24-3) and Illinois (33-13) in the first half of the season.

“Every time Penn State played a quality team this year they got beat by three touchdowns,” Stoneback said. “They beat the weaker teams, but they haven’t done well against the better teams.”

OGBU UNDERSTANDS THE LINE

That makes sense to Penn State co-captain Ollie Ogbu, who said he understands why the Buckeyes are such a heavy favorite.

“We haven’t played well against any good teams this year,” says Ogbu, a senior defensive tackle, “so we haven’t done anything for them to think otherwise.”

Still, the number seems extraordinarily high in Happy Valley -- where talk of point spreads is very rarely part of the pre-game banter.

The line when the Buckeyes are playing is much more of a national issue. Ohio State, like Texas, Oklahoma and Notre Dame, is what Stoneback calls a “public team.”

“Ohio State is a team the general public likes to bet a lot of money on every week,” he said. “When a team is good, with a good tradition, and they play well week after week, the public jumps on their bandwagon.”

And that public bets on “its” team.

These days, Ohio State (8-1 in 2010, and since 2002 third in the country with 95 wins) has a following almost like no other. And that following bets heavily on Tressel and Co.

“It seems like every game we’re rooting for Ohio State to lose,” groans Stoneback.

They care a lot less about Dear Old State at The Mirage.

“Penn State’s not a bad team,” Stoneback says. “But lately they haven’t had the national standing of Ohio State.”

Ouch.

ROYSTER CARRIES A GRUDGE

That pain can be felt all the way inside the Nittany Lion locker room.

“It's kind of insulting," senior running back Evan Royster says of the 17-1/2-point line. "We've proven we can put points on the board and we can win games. …A lot of people will take offense to it."

Stoneback thinks a line of 17-1/2 is almost the same as 18, 19, even 19-1/2 points. The big difference, he says, comes at 20 points.

“If the line gets run up to 20 points, that’s when the pro players will really get involved,” he says. “At this time of year, most of the players are pros anyway.”

And, honestly, those gamblers care little that Matt McGloin is now at the reins or that the Lions are on a three-game roll. Or that Joe Paterno is coming off of Win No. 400.

“It could be his 400th win or his fourth win, it’s not going to affect the line,” Stoneback laughs. “When it comes to money, no one’s sentimental.”

QUARTERBACK ODDS

What are the odds…

…that Matt McGloin would be starting at quarterback for Penn State on Saturday?

After all, McGloin was not ranked on anyone’s prospect list as a high school senior. Not No. 1, No. 2, not even No. 100.

That’s why, on a list of quarterbacks on the field at The Horseshoe on Saturday – and one who will be in Amherst, Mass. -- McGloin’s chances of starting at quarterback had to be off the board when he came to Penn State as a walk-on in the fall of 2008.

Look at what had to happen for McGloin to start Saturday:

1.) Terrelle Pryor decided to not come to Penn State.

Admittedly, the Nittany Lions were never No. 1 on his list. But they did make the final three when Pryor prolonged announcing his decision in early 2008.

Pryor is the last player Paterno has seen on a home visit, and the veteran coach really wanted the Jeannette, Pa., native to attend Penn State. Pryor, now 6-foot-6 and 233 pounds as a college junior, was the nation’s No. 1 prospect as a high school senior when Paterno went to see him in early 2008.

“He was a great, great high school player,” Paterno says. “And not only as a football player, a heck of a basketball player. We tried everything we could to try to get him to come to Penn State.”

Never happened, as we now know.

2.) Pat Devlin decided to transfer.

It was Devlin who came on in relief of quarterback Daryll Clark in Penn State’s last visit to Columbus, in 2008. With Clark out after taking a hit to the head late in the third quarter, Devlin led a long scoring drive that culminated with him diving over from the 1 for a touchdown to guide PSU to victory.

Devlin was the odds-on favorite to be Penn State’s quarterback in 2010, but he -- and his father -- couldn’t wait, and after issuing an ultimatum to Paterno before the 2009 Rose Bowl, Devlin left school.

Devlin landed in Delaware, where after a solid season in 2009, he has had a monster year in 2010. The Blue Hens are 8-1 and No. 1 in the Football Championship Subdivision. On Tuesday, Devlin was named as a finalist for the Johnny Unitas Golden Award. He is the only one of the 10 finalists to play for a FCS team.

On Saturday, Devlin and the Blue Hens will be on the road at the University of Massachusetts, ranked No. 13 in the FCS. Before you turn up your nose, Michigan barely beat the Minutemen, 42-37, earlier in the season. On the other hand, of course, UMass is hardly Ohio State.

3.) Freshman Rob Bolden gets hurt vs. Minnesota.

McGloin would not have seen the light of day on the road against Minnesota on Oct. 23 if not for Bolden getting hurt. Bolden started the game by hitting his first nine passes and was 11 of 13 when he was knocked out of the game.

That opened the door for McGloin, who threw two touchdown passes against the Gophers, then came back the next week to start against Michigan -- and win.

Still, Bolden got the start against Northwestern -- his eighth start in nine games in 2010. With Bolden at the helm, the Nittany Lions moved the ball in their first two drives against Northwestern (gaining a combined 86 yards). But the second drive ended when Bolden was sacked for a loss and fumbled the football.

That’s when Paterno made up his mind to give McGloin a shot. Again.

“He didn't get in until, when Bolden fumbled the ball, I wanted to sit him down and relax him a little bit,” Paterno said. “I intended to put Bolden back in.”

In fact, had McGloin not led the Lions on that nine-play, 90-yard touchdown drive in under a minute at the end of the first half, it is likely that Bolden would have started the second half against the Wildcats.

“In fact, I had (Bolden) all set to play just before the first half,” Paterno said. “Told him to get ready and we made that drive.”

4.) Kevin Newsome can’t grasp the Penn State playbook.

Hard to believe that Newsome was a viable candidate for the starting job in August, based on what we now know and have seen.

Newsome, the backup to Clark as a freshman in 2009, is firmly ensconced as the third quarterback, and that may only be because Paterno will undoubtably redshirt Paul Jones for 2010.

Newsome was the nation’s 10th-rated quarterback as a high school senior, but the odds of him ever starting even one game for Penn State -– at least at quarterback -- diminish with every contest.

“I think Kevin is a little bit behind (Bolden) and Kevin's biggest problem is a mental one,” Paterno said. “He's got a lot of physical ability. But he hasn't quite kept up with the other two kids in some of the decisions that have to be made and things of that sort.”

5.) Freshman Paul Jones didn’t do well in the classroom to start his Penn State career.

Jones, ranked between third and eighth among high school quarterbacks his senior year, enrolled in Penn State in January 2010. He looked good in the Blue White Game, throwing a pair of touchdown passes, and certainly played as well as -- if not better than -- McGloin and Newsome.

But as summer drills started, Paterno revealed that Jones had not been doing well academically and would most probably redshirt.

Jones been dressing for Penn State’s home games, but only as in “open only in an emergency” basis.

GO BUST

All that, and more, opened the door for McGloin to get the starting job. Talk about a long shot.

So, come the offseason, odds are that either Jones or Newsome will be moved, either to another position or, of their own volition, to another university's campus.

If that’s the case, then what happens in Happy Valley won’t -- for at least one erstwhile Nittany Lion quarterback -- stay in Happy Valley.



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Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for StateCollege.com since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/PSUPoorman. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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Penn State Football: McGloin to Start against Ohio State
November 09, 2010 3:00 PM
by Terry Casey
Penn State Football: McGloin to Start against Ohio State
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