Penn State is entering the 2024 season with a loaded roster and a clear opportunity to reach the College Football Playoff for the first time in program history.

The Nittany Lions stand to be one of the nation’s biggest beneficiaries of the expanded CFP, which will now allow for several Big Ten teams to make the Playoff on an annual basis. Penn State also stands to gain from the Big Ten’s new division-less format — gone are the years that Penn State has to face both Ohio State and Michigan every season in the Big Ten East.

Penn State is also setup for a potential Playoff run this year as it returns quarterback Drew Allar and several other key pieces from last year’s team that won 10 games and earned a Peach Bowl bid.

Penn State is currently -130 at bet365 to make the College Football Playoff in 2024. Let’s break down the Nittany Lions’ roster, returning production and schedule to determine if there’s value in placing a bet on Penn State to reach the CFP:

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Penn State’s roster and returning production

Drew Allar returns in 2024 for another year as Penn State’s starting quarterback. He had good numbers overall last season and took good care of the ball with a 25-to-2 TD-to-INT ratio. However, he averaged just 6.8 yards per attempt (tied for 77th nationally) and posted sub-50% completion percentages in Penn State’s losses last season to Ohio State, Michigan and Ole Miss. Allar taking a big step forward against good teams is crucial for Penn State’s success in 2024.

Elsewhere offensively, Penn State added a pair of big-time transfers in wide receiver Julian Fleming and offensive lineman Nolan Rucci. Both players are projected to start for Penn State this upcoming season. Kaytron Allen and Nicholas Singleton both return at running back, but receiver is a big question mark for the Nittany Lions once you get past Fleming on the depth chart. Penn State’s offensive line is also a potential concern after the Nittany Lions lost 3 starters to the NFL Draft, but there’s reason for optimism with this group as well.

The big reason for excitement with Penn State’s offense is the hiring of ex-Kansas offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki to run the show offensively. It’s an intriguing hire for James Franklin, as Kotelnicki is widely-regarded as one of the top offensive minds in all of college football. Under Kotelnicki’s leadership last season, Kansas led the Big 12 in yards-per-play with 7.12 despite playing most of the year with a backup quarterback. Kotelnicki’s arrival should mean a major efficiency boost for Penn State’s offense in 2024.

Penn State lost 4 defenders to the NFL Draft this offseason: 2 defensive linemen and 2 cornerbacks. Penn State also lost a pair of safeties this offseason. However, the Nittany Lions seem to be well on their way to rebuilding their excellent secondary in 2024. Jaylen Reed, Kevin Winston Jr. and Cam Miller are all back in Happy Valley this season and are joined by incoming transfers AJ Harris and Jalen Kimber.

Penn State has done a great job of rebuilding its defense year after year despite consistent departures to the NFL. The Nittany Lions have finished in the top-5 of the Big Ten in yards per play every year since 2014.

Penn State’s 2024 schedule

Penn State’s 2024 schedule includes matchups against 3 Big Ten newcomers: UCLA, USC and Washington. Two of those 3 contests will be played at home in Happy Valley. The Nittany Lions’ schedule is also headlined by a nonconference matchup against West Virginia.

Here’s a look at the full slate:

  • Aug. 31: at West Virginia
  • Sept. 7: Bowling Green
  • Sept. 21: Kent State
  • Sept. 28: Illinois
  • Oct. 5: UCLA
  • Oct. 12: at USC
  • Oct. 26: at Wisconsin
  • Nov. 2: Ohio State
  • Nov. 9: Washington
  • Nov. 16 at Purdue
  • Nov. 23: at Minnesota
  • Nov. 30: Maryland

Penn State is fortunate to avoid Michigan, Oregon and Iowa this season. The Nittany Lions will likely be favored in at least 10 of these games, with the exceptions being Ohio State and possibly USC. They do get the Buckeyes at home in early November, but that will be a very tough matchup for Penn State. Still, this is a schedule that sets up for Penn State to go 10-2 or better — a record that would almost certainly be good enough to earn an at-large berth in the 12-team CFP.

Will Penn State make the College Football Playoff in 2024?

Given Penn State’s strength of schedule, a 10-2 record is likely to be enough to get the Nittany Lions into the 12-team field. Historically speaking, a 10-2 record from a power-conference team has been enough to crack the top-12 of the final CFP rankings (or the top-11, to account for a lower-ranked Group-of-5 champion to be included in the field). Meanwhile, a 9-3 team has not made the top-11 of the final CFP rankings since Auburn did so in 2019 (excluding 2020).

ESPN’s Bill Connelly recently updated his post-spring SP+ projections, which included odds for several Playoff contenders go at least 10-2 during the regular season. SP+’s numbers give Penn State a 72.8% chance to go 10-2 or better. Penn State would almost certainly receive a Playoff berth if it gets to double-digit wins during the regular season. Given the implied odds (56.52%) that bet365 is offering at -130, there seems to be quite a bit of value in betting on the Nittany Lions to reach the Playoff.

ESPN’s other predictive metric, FPI, is also backing Penn State to reach the playoff. FPI’s latest update gives the Nittany Lions a 59.1% chance to reach their first-ever CFP. FPI isn’t quite as bullish on Penn State as SP+ is, but the Nittany Lions are still favored to reach the CFP by that model.

Penn State is one of 4 major Playoff contenders in the Big Ten entering the season, with Ohio State, Michigan and Oregon also in the conversation. Ultimately, I think there’s enough room for all 4 of those programs to make the Playoff in 2024. And for Penn State specifically, the -130 price tag isn’t scaring me off.

PICK: Penn State to make the College Football Playoff in 2024 (-130)

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