Penn State Football

College Football Playoff committee chair explains why Penn State missed out

Debate is going to rage on and on and on.

And then on some more.

Penn State missed out on the College Football Playoff, moving to No. 5 in the selection committee’s final rankings that were released Sunday afternoon.

Alabama held firm at No. 1, while Clemson, Ohio State and Washington came in at No. 2, 3 and 4, respectively.

The Nittany Lions, fresh off their 38-31 comeback win against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship game Saturday night, are the first Big Ten champions to not make the cut in the four-team playoff’s three-year history. The conference champion in 2014 (Ohio State) and 2015 (Michigan State) reached the national semifinals.

Instead of facing Alabama, Penn State will play No. 9 Southern California in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2.

But the Nittany Lions were close to squaring off with the Crimson Tide on Dec. 31.

Selection committee chair Kirby Hocutt said on a media teleconference Sunday afternoon that the No. 4 spot was up for major discussion between Washington and Penn State.

“It was a close call,” Hocutt said. “The committee discussed why each team could be ranked No. 4. ... We pick the best teams. After considerable conversation about whether Washington or Penn State was better, the committee concluded that Washington is the better team.”

There was also the argument that Penn State should get into the four-team playoff before Ohio State. The Nittany Lions defeated the Buckeyes 24-21 on Oct. 22, won the Big Ten East division, and obviously captured the conference title.

The Buckeyes had an off-weekend, watching the game from their couches.

But Ohio State’s 11-1 record, highlighted by wins over Oklahoma, Michigan and Wisconsin firmly outweighed Penn State’s resume, in the eyes of the committee.

Hocutt, who said last week that the gap between Ohio State and Penn State was sizable, offered a little leeway, but remained confident in the committee’s selection.

“Penn State significantly elevated themselves in our conversation after their performance (Saturday) night. ... That second-half performance, incredibly impressed,” Hocutt said. “I had said I think a number of weeks earlier that in the eyes of this selection committee, Ohio State was a better football team than Penn State. Obviously our rankings continued to reflect that analysis and that decision.”

As for James Franklin, the coach said Sunday on a teleconference that there were a few players in Penn State’s watch party that expressed frustration with not making the College Football Playoff.

“But 99 percent of the guys in there are just excited about staying together as a family,” Franklin said, “and being able to play in such a historic bowl game.”

John McGonigal: 814-231-4630, @jmcgonigal9