Cotton Bowl Betting Preview: Picks And Predictions For Penn State vs. Memphis

Written By Matt Perrault on December 22, 2019

Before we ring in the New Year, we have a bunch of college bowl games to bet on. In this article we are going to break down the 2019 Goodyear Cotton Bowl being played at AT&T Stadium in Dallas, Texas. This game matches up the top non-Power 5 conference team in Memphis versus one of the top teams out of the Big 10 Conference in Penn State. I’m going to provide a betting overview on the moneyline, points spread, and the total using DraftKing Sportsbook and FanDuel Sportsbook odds.

While we haven’t used many “leans” in our college football betting articles this season, I will use leans here when it’s appropriate. A lean is the direction I’m thinking the game will go but I’m not fully committed to backing it with a play. When I’m putting my own money down, that is what I call a “pick.”

Memphis vs. Penn State moneyline

Memphis is 12-1 and winner of the AAC after beating Cincinnati in back-to-back weeks with both games played at home. After Boise State got thoroughly crushed by a 7-5 Washington team in the Las Vegas Bowl, there isn’t much controversy anymore about the Tigers being selected for from the Group of 5 for this game.

This is the biggest bowl game in school history for Memphis but Mike Norvell has already left for the Florida State job. Offensive Line coach Ryan Silverfield takes over for this game and he will be in charge of trying to find a way to beat a Penn State team that lost to only Ohio State and Minnesota this season.

James Franklin has Penn State back in a New Year’s Six bowl game for the third time in four seasons. The Nittany Lions have been one of the most impressive programs in the Big 10 over the last few years and their fans are becoming accustomed to a major bowl appearance at the end of the year. There will be a lot of Nittany Lion fans making the trip to Dallas this weekend.

As with any bowl game, motivation is a major topic to consider before taking a position. Mike Norvell not being the coach for Memphis in this game is huge but Penn State is going to be without its offensive coordinator as Ricky Rahne has left to take over the Old Dominion program. Memphis’ offense is averaging 40.5 points per game but Penn State’s defense is allowing just 14.1 points per game.

In 2017, USC beat Penn State 52-49 in the Rose Bowl. In 2018, Penn State won the Fiesta Bowl over Washington 35-28. Last year in the Citrus Bowl, the Nittany Lions lost to Kentucky 27-24. I point out the recent bowl record for Penn State because while I like PSU to win this game by double-digits, I’m not going to lay the amount of juice you have to in order to bet the Nittany Lions to win this game outright.

LEAN: Penn State (-250 at DraftKings Sportsbook)

Memphis vs. Penn State point spread

The vast majority of the money bet on this game will come in within 24 hours of kickoff. The consensus line around the country is Penn State -7 and I think that is actually showing too much respect for Memphis. I think the line might move above 7, so I would play it as soon as you can.

The Tigers haven’t played a team a ranked team outside of Cincy this season and both of those wins were at home. Memphis didn’t cover either of those lines. While beating Navy is something to be proud of inside the AAC, outside it’s not going to scare Penn State at all. Memphis is 8-5 this year ATS but has been favored in every game this season. The Tigers are catching 7 points here and it will be interesting to see how they handle being the underdog.

Penn State is only 6-6 ATS but 3-1 this year when favored by seven points or fewer. The Nittany Lions have faced an offense with better numbers and players than Memphis — a team called Ohio State. While they lost that game 28-17, Penn State held the Buckeyes well below their average for points per game. This is strength on strength, but Penn State’s defense is just stronger.

PICK: Penn State -7 (FanDuel Sportsbook)

Memphis vs. Penn State over/under total

With an offense in Memphis that features star running backs like Kenneth Gainwell, holding the Tigers down for four quarters is going to very difficult. Gainwell has one of the best seasons of any back in the country as he has rushed for over 1,400 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also can catch the ball out of the backfield. With Penn State allowing less than 100 yards on the ground per game, throwing the ball might be how the Tigers choose to attack one of the best defenses in the country.

QB Brady White has a talented bunch of receivers that was the second-best passing offense in the American this season. While Penn State gives up a lot of yards through the air, it has allowed only 10 passing touchdowns.

Given Penn State’s big play ability with players like KJ Hamler and Journey Brown, I expect a bunch of points to be scored by the Nittany Lions on a Memphis defense that hasn’t seen many Power 5 offenses. With Penn State’s recent history of giving up a lot of points in bowl games, combined with its dashed hopes of playing in the Rose Bowl, there very well could be a lot of points scored by both teams.

PICK: OVER 59.5 (FanDuel Sportsbook)

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Matt Perrault

Matt Perrault is the sports gambling voice of SB Nation Radio, nationally hosting "Pushing The Odds”, weekdays from 1 to 4 p.m. ET, live from Las Vegas. His show features daily sports gambling, DFS, and gaming content. A lifelong sports gambler, Matt has been covering the sports gaming industry since moving to Vegas in 2015 and has made his mark with sports book operators around the sports gambling world.

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