Trust Sam Ehlinger to cover


LAS VEGAS — With senior quarterback Sam Ehlinger leading a veteran team, Texas went into this season with playoff-sized expectations. Those plans fell apart by the second Saturday in October, when the Longhorns took their second straight loss.

Everything is bigger in Texas, especially the level of disappointment that surrounds coach Tom Herman’s underachievers. The Longhorns are reduced to playing the spoiler role Saturday against Oklahoma State, the only undefeated team in the Big 12 and the conference’s last remaining playoff hope.

The Cowboys are a complete team again after quarterback Spencer Sanders returned from injury last week. Spencer passed for 235 yards and a touchdown, and star running back Chuba Hubbard carried 25 times for 139 yards in a 24-21 victory over Iowa State. For those who choose to nitpick, Sanders looked shaky while being intercepted twice.

A Texas defense that allowed a total of 86 points in back-to-back losses to Texas Christian and Oklahoma bounced back with a strong performance against Baylor last week. The Longhorns limited the Bears to three points through three quarters in a 27-16 win. Ehlinger passed for 270 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 51 yards and two touchdowns. He leads the nation with 24 touchdowns (17 passing, seven rushing).

Oklahoma State held off Texas, 38-35, in Stillwater two years ago. This one should go to the wire, too. Stay bullish on Ehlinger, the best quarterback the Cowboys have faced this season.

The pick: Texas +3.5.

PENN STATE (+11.5) over Ohio State: The Nittany Lions were stunned by Indiana in a 36-35 overtime loss that further exposed coach James Franklin’s poor game-management tactics. On the bright and overlooked side, Penn State’s defense held the Hoosiers to 211 total yards, while quarterback Sean Clifford accounted for 357 total yards (238 passing, 119 rushing) and four touchdowns. Franklin is 7-1 ATS in his past eight games as an underdog.

Are the Buckeyes capable of blowing this open? Of course. Justin Fields went 20-for-21 passing against Nebraska and appears ready to make a run at the Heisman Trophy. However, Ohio State was getting pushed around at the line of scrimmage by the Cornhuskers in a game that was tied late in the second quarter. Clifford’s playmaking and the Lions’ defense can keep this close.

UNLV (+14) over Nevada: In coach Marcus Arroyo’s debut, the Rebels played three quarterbacks and scored six points in an embarrassing loss at San Diego State. This line is an overreaction to UNLV’s poor first game, and Arroyo’s offense will show improvement. The Wolf Pack delivered as home ’dogs last week, but they blew a 28-6 lead against Wyoming and were fortunate to win in overtime.

Last week: 1-2. Minnesota (L), Mississippi (L), Nevada (W).
Season: 15-8-1.

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