Penn State Football

The College Football Playoff rankings are in: Is Penn State on pace to reach a top-tier bowl game?

Penn State tight end Mike Gesicki makes a catch for a touchdown over Nebraska linebacker Chris Weber during the game on Saturday. Gesicki and the Nittany Lions remain at No. 10 in the latest College Football Playoff rankings.
Penn State tight end Mike Gesicki makes a catch for a touchdown over Nebraska linebacker Chris Weber during the game on Saturday. Gesicki and the Nittany Lions remain at No. 10 in the latest College Football Playoff rankings.

No surprises here: The Nittany Lions remained in the top 10.

But so did everyone else.

After a ho-hum week across the board, the Nittany Lions held firm at No. 10 in the new College Football Playoff rankings, released Tuesday night.

Alabama came in at No. 1, while Miami, Clemson and Oklahoma rounded out the top 4. Miami — the No. 3 team in the country last week — leaped the Tigers. Wisconsin, Auburn, Georgia, Notre Dame and Ohio State were Nos. 5 through 9.

The Big Ten has five ranked teams. Michigan State and Northwestern are Nos. 16 and 22, respectively.

College Football Playoff committee chair Kirby Hocutt was asked by ESPN host Rece Davis about the three teams from Nos. 9-11: Ohio State, Penn State and Southern California. The Buckeyes and Trojans have an outside chance at the playoff because both will play in their respective conference championship games.

“Those three teams there are very close in our discussions,” Hocutt said. “Obviously, Ohio State has the head-to-head victory over Penn State.”

The Nittany Lions fell in Columbus 39-38 on Oct. 28.

How they got here

This week was boring by college football’s standards.

Alabama and Clemson beat up on Mercer and The Citadel, respectively. Oklahoma disposed of the dumpster fire that is Kansas. Miami pulled away from Virginia, Wisconsin took care of Michigan, and Auburn and Georgia both hung 42 points in blowouts.

There were no losses in the top 10 this week. The ranked teams outscored their opponents 442-146. The closest contest was Notre Dame’s 24-17 win over Navy.

A couple teams behind Penn State — Oklahoma State and NC State — fell to unranked foes, but that had no bearing on James Franklin’s crew.

All that being said, it’s not a surprise to see the Nittany Lions stay where they’re at.

Two weeks ago, at this point, it was survive and rise. Well, this past week it was survive and hang out.

Gradual clarity

A few weeks ago, Penn State’s bowl projections were all over the place. Some still thought the College Football Playoff was alive, while downers on the Nittany Lions believed the Outback Bowl was a distinct possibility.

Neither of those two are going to happen — that is, unless Penn State falters at Maryland, in which case, pack your bags for Tampa. But don’t book that plane ticket. The Nittany Lions are poised to beat Maryland handily and finish the regular season 10-2.

Getting into late November, we have further clarity on Penn State’s bowl picture.

CBS Sports, SB Nation, NBC Sports and Bleacher Report have the Nittany Lions facing Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl. That’s assuming the Fighting Irish win on Saturday against No. 21 Stanford and get to 10-2. They’re 2.5-point road favorites in Palo Alto.

The only other bowl Penn State has been projected to go to is the Citrus Bowl, which isn’t a New Year’s Six, but still a nice destination. ESPN and Sports Illustrated have the Nittany Lions playing Mississippi State in Orlando. The Bulldogs will likely beat Ole Miss and finish the season at 9-3. Mississippi State is a solid team, which has lost to only Alabama, Auburn and Georgia this season.

Now, Penn State still has an outside shot at the Orange Bowl. If Ohio State falls to either Michigan or Wisconsin the next couple of weeks, that’d push the Buckeyes below Penn State in the pecking order. But the Nittany Lions would still deal with Georgia ranked ahead of them, probably even if the Bulldogs lost in the SEC title game. The Orange Bowl takes the top-ranked Big Ten, SEC or Notre Dame team.

Week 13 rooting interests

No. 1 Alabama at No. 6 Auburn: If you just want to see chaos, then sure, War Eagle. Auburn winning would send the Tigers to the SEC title game instead of the Crimson Tide, who don’t have convincing win against a top opponent this season. It would be extremely interesting to see what the committee would do with ’Bama.

But for Penn State, an Auburn win muddies the waters a bit.

To secure a New Year’s Six spot in the Fiesta, Cotton or Peach Bowls — all at-large selections — the Nittany Lions want teams ahead of them to lose.

Simple as that. Roll Tide, Penn State fans.

No. 7 Georgia at Georgia Tech: Same reasoning as above, but with a twist.

Georgia is already going to the SEC title game. But if the Bulldogs lose to Georgia Tech and lose in the conference championship game, those three losses would put them firmly behind Penn State, making an Orange Bowl appearance slightly more likely for the Nittany Lions.

What are the odds Georgia is upset in Atlanta? Not as improbable as one would expect. The Yellow Jackets, who are seeking their sixth win of the season and bowl eligibility, are 11.5-point underdogs.

If you’re someone who loves rooting for the underdog — and cheering on Alabama makes your stomach turn — here’s a remedy.

Baylor at No. 12 TCU: The Horned Frogs can be a real thorn in Penn State’s side.

If TCU beats Baylor, Gary Patterson’s crew is headed to the Big 12 title game. If the Horned Frogs upset Oklahoma there, then the conference is probably left out of the playoff — but both teams will take up New Year’s Six spots.

Oklahoma should take care of TCU in a potential Big 12 title game; Boomer Sooner beat the Frogs 38-20 a couple weeks ago.

But Nittany Lion fans don’t want to leave that to chance.

Plus, State College native and Penn State letterman Matt Rhule is coaching Baylor, so that should be enough incentive for Nittany Lion fans to pull for the 24-point underdog.

John McGonigal: 814-231-4630, @jmcgonigal9

College Football Playoff rankings

1. Alabama

2. Miami

3. Clemson

4. Oklahoma

5. Wisconsin

6. Auburn

7. Georgia

8. Notre Dame

9. Ohio State

10. Penn State

11. Southern California

12. TCU

13. Washington State

14. Mississippi State

15. Central Florida

16. Michigan State

17. Washington

18. LSU

19. Oklahoma State

20. Memphis

21. Stanford

22. Northwestern

23. Boise State

24. South Carolina

25. Virginia Tech

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