Source: Penn State Athletics

No. 13 Penn State (10-2) and No. 15 Memphis (12-1) meet in the Cotton Bowl Classic on Saturday. Game time is scheduled for noon ET at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The game will be nationally televised on ESPN.

Penn State finished second in the Big Ten East with a 7-2 conference record. A win in the Cotton Bowl would secure the Nittany Lions’ third 11-win season in four years under head coach James Franklin, but only their third bowl win (and second in the New Year’s Day 6).

Memphis, on the other hand, is one of the most underrated programs in the country over the last three years. A win here would secure what is already the Tigers’ best season in program history.

Penn State is a 6.5 favorite

Keys to the game

Penn State QB Sean Clifford

Clifford had a very good season, but in the two games at the end of the season against better competition, the Nittany Lions played in Minnesota and Ohio State and Clifford struggled. Memphis’ secondary has played well this season, giving up an average of just 200 passing yards a game so Clifford will need his A-game if the Lions are to win.

Can Memphis offensive line control the Nittany Lions’ pass rush

Penn State’s three leading pass-rushers–Yetur Gross-Matos, Shaka Toney and second-team All-American linebacker Micah Parsons–have combined for 32.5 tackles for loss and 17.5 sacks this season. Memphis has allowed 21 sacks all season, or roughly 1.5 per game. If the Tigers can control the pass rush of Penn State, Memphis QB Brady White will have a big day and give Memphis a very good shot at pulling off the upset.

Kenneth Gainwell

Gainwell has been one of the best running backs in the country, but over the last two games against the very good Cincinnati Bearcats defense, Gainwell struggled a little bit. With Penn State’s defense I would think you will see some new wrinkles to get Gainwell the ball, especially in the passing game.

Prediction

Sean Clifford, receiver K.J. Hamler and running back Journey Brown should have big games against this Memphis defense. It will also depend on the Nittany Lions being able to keep Memphis running back Kenneth Gainwell under control. I think they will as Penn State’s run defense is one of the best in the country. Look for Memphis to throw the proverbial kitchen sink at Penn State. Memphis deserves to be in this game and they will make a good account of themselves, but Penn State will pull away late to cover.

Penn State 41  Memphis 30