Instead of starting its climb back into the playoff picture, Penn State tumbled on Tuesday night — but not as far as one would expect.
The Nittany Lions are No. 14 in the country, according to this week’s College Football Playoff rankings. James Franklin’s crew was No. 7 in last week’s initial poll.
Georgia stayed at No. 1, with Alabama, Notre Dame and Clemson finishing out the top 4 in that order.
Despite a weak schedule, Wisconsin is the class of the Big Ten right now at No. 8 in the rankings. Michigan State moved up to No. 12 after beating Penn State 27-24 on Saturday, while Ohio State’s 31-point loss at Iowa dropped the Buckeyes to No. 13. Iowa and Northwestern are sitting at Nos. 20 and 25, respectively.
The Nittany Lions are now playing for a 10-win season and sunny bowl trip. CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm projects Penn State to play LSU in the Outback Bowl, while Sports Illustrated has the Nittany Lions facing Auburn in the Citrus Bowl.
How they got here
Penn State didn’t get totally burned by the playoff committee because its two losses came on the road against ranked teams by a combined four points.
The Nittany Lions are behind four two-loss teams: Auburn, Southern California, Michigan State and Ohio State.
It makes complete sense for the Spartans and Buckeyes to sit ahead of Penn State considering the head-to-head results. The No. 11 Trojans are somewhat questionable that high; they were blown out by Notre Dame and lost to now-No. 19 Washington State. As for the Tigers, they fell in close ones at Clemson and at LSU.
The committee still values Penn State, though; No. 14 isn’t shabby. The Nittany Lions are ahead of Oklahoma State, Mississippi State, and Virginia Tech, among others.
Interesting note, too: With Iowa and Northwestern entering the rankings, Penn State has played all four of their road games this season against currently ranked opponents. That has to count for something.
It’s pretty much impossible for Penn State to reach the College Football Playoff.
Technically, there’s still a road to a Big Ten East crown and berth in the conference title game — but it’s as close to reality as unicorns or pixie dust.
To save everyone some tiebreaker explanations, one of these two scenarios has to happen, assuming Penn State wins out:
▪ Ohio State loses to Michigan State on Saturday and Michigan at the end of the season. Plus, Sparty needs to fall to Maryland and Rutgers.
▪ Ohio State beats Michigan State, but loses to Illinois and Michigan. Then, the Spartans drop one to Maryland or Rutgers.
According to Bill Connelly’s S&P+ analytical ratings, Illinois has a 3 percent chance of beating Ohio State. Meanwhile, Michigan State has an 81 and 69 percent probability to beat Maryland and Rutgers, respectively.
It’s not going to happen, folks. And if it does, fire away at my Twitter mentions.
Week 11 rooting interests
It’s not the playoff, but a New Year’s Six bowl trip is better than the Outback or Holiday Bowl.
The Citrus Bowl has a Big Ten tie-in. So does the Orange Bowl. Meanwhile, the Cotton Bowl and Fiesta Bowl take two at-large options. Hanging out at Disney World in Orlando, enjoying Miami nightlife, seeing a game at AT&T Stadium or golfing in Arizona aren’t bad consolation prizes for Penn State fans.
That being said, the Nittany Lions are pulling for teams around them to lose to secure a New Year’s Six spot.
No. 2 Alabama at No. 16 Mississippi State: At this point, rooting for crazy upsets is an understandable and respectable course of action.
But a Crimson Tide victory is good for Penn State. It would further shore up Alabama’s expected playoff spot and give the Bulldogs their third defeat, effectively keeping them from a New Year’s Six bowl.
Should Dan Mullen’s team stun Nick Saban’s juggernaut? Well, Mississippi State would probably finish at 10-2 — dumpster fires Arkansas and Ole Miss await the Bulldogs. But assuming ’Bama rebounds, Mississippi State won’t make the SEC title game and be left out of the playoff conversation.
That’d peg the Bulldogs for a New Year’s Six berth. Maybe they’d get one of the SEC tie-ins, maybe not.
No. 1 Georgia at No. 10 Auburn: Same reasoning as Alabama-Mississippi State.
Pull for Georgia, Nittany Lion supporters.
No. 6 TCU at No. 5 Oklahoma: Penn State fans should be bellowing, “Boomer Sooner,” on Saturday.
If Oklahoma loses on Saturday, the Sooners would probably stay ahead of Penn State in the rankings. Oklahoma boasts that convincing road win at Ohio State — something the Nittany Lions couldn’t get done. In that situation, TCU would add a second signature win and position itself for a playoff push, at worst a New Year’s Six berth.
But if the Horned Frogs fall, they could drop behind Penn State.
Oddly enough, if TCU loses then beats Texas Tech and Baylor, it could face Penn State in a New Year’s Six.
But let’s stay in the present: A TCU loss would beneficial for the Nittany Lions.
College Football Playoff rankings
3. Notre Dame
11. Southern California
12. Michigan State
13. Ohio State
14. Penn State
15. Oklahoma State
16. Mississippi State
17. Virginia Tech
18. Central Florida
19. Washington State
21. Iowa State
23. NC State