2017 Fiesta Bowl Expert Picks & Predictions Washington vs. Penn State
Washington Huskies vs. Penn State Nittany Lions, Saturday Dec. 30, 4 p.m. ET
This year's Fiesta Bowl is like a traditional Rose Bowl showdown a year late. It features last year's Big Ten and Pac-12 champs in a showdown that never happened last year because of the playoff. Neither team made it back to the championship game this year, but with 10 wins each they have nothing to be ashamed of, and the winner here will wind up comfortably inside the Top 10 in the final rankings. It's a high-stakes game, and it should be a very entertaining one as well.
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Fiesta Bowl Betting Storylines
Saquon Barkley is a very good player. That isn't a revelation. He has a good chance of being a Top 5 pick in the upcoming NFL Draft. But he isn't perfect. In the two Penn State losses against Ohio State and Michigan State, the opposing defensive line was very effective at shutting down Barkley. He had 44 yards on 21 carries in a terrible game against Ohio State and a better-but-still-not-impressive 63 yards on 14 carries the next week against Michigan State. Stout defensive lines held him to three yards per carry, which is relevant because Washington has a very good defensive line. DT Vita Vea could easily be a first-round pick, and he anchors a defensive line that can be very dangerous - they totally frustrated Washington State last time out. Washington had the second-ranked defense in the country when it came to running yards allowed, giving up just 93.2 yards per game. The battle in the trenches when Penn State has the ball, then, has a very good chance at being the factor that decides the game - and therefore it determines how you should bet on the game.
Another problem facing the Nittany Lions is the loss of Joe Moorhead. The offensive coordinator has been responsible for a lot of success that this team has enjoyed the last two years, and he is a real talent. He is the new head coach of the Mississippi State Bulldogs, though, so he won't be around for this game. They have some continuity despite the loss - Ricky Rahne, who had been passing game coordinator at Penn State for four years, is the new offensive coordinator. Rahne's responsibilities have changed, though, and there are several other coaching changes pending for the team. It's not an ideal scenario heading into a test like this one.
While Barkley is the biggest name in this game, he's not even the leading rusher. Myles Gaskin of Washington had more rushing yards, better yards per carry, and more total touchdowns than Barkley. He is the centerpiece of an offense that is balanced. They aren't outstanding at any particular thing when they have the ball, but that balance has allowed them to score almost 37 points per game. Penn State ranks seventh nationally in points allowed, but in their last five games they had three rough defensive outings - 39 points by Ohio State, 27 from Michigan State and, incredibly, 44 by Nebraska. There is a blueprint out there now to score points on this team, and Washington could very well be talented enough to exploit that.
Fiesta Bowl Odds and Betting Trends
The game opened with Penn State favored by the key number of three, but that has fallen to two points in early betting action. It fell very quickly off that opening three, which means that early betting action was heavily on Washington. Nearly three-quarters of bets have been on the Nittany Lions, so the line movement suggests that sharp money clearly likes the Huskies. The total opened at 55 and has been stable in early betting.
The Huskies are 4-1 ATS in their last five games in December and 6-1 ATS in their last seven games against opponents with a winning record. They are, however, just 1-4 ATS in their last five nonconference games. Penn State is a stellar 16-4-2 ATS in their last 22 overall, which includes 9-2-2 ATS against teams with winning records and 3-0-1 ATS in their last four nonconference games. They have gone "over" the total in five of their last six.
Washington vs. Penn State Fiesta Bowl Expert Picks & Predictions
I like to set my own lines before I look at bowl lines that have been posted the first time. When I set this line I had Washington as three-point favorites, and I felt pretty good about making that bet. So with the Huskies as underdogs I am very happy. Washington's defense is legitimate, their offense is balanced, and they are facing far fewer changes to their leadership than Penn State is. Washington is the pick.
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