Penn State’s regular season is over, and the waiting game is on.
Will James Franklin’s squad reach a third straight New Year’s Six game? Will the 9-3 Nittany Lions fly to Florida for the Citrus Bowl? And could Franklin go up against former offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead and Mississippi State?
All those options are on the table. Here’s where the national media projections have Penn State, followed by a breakdown of how likely those destinations are.
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ESPN’s Kyle Bonagura: vs. LSU, Citrus Bowl
ESPN’s Mitch Sherman: vs. Kentucky, Outback Bowl
CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm: vs. Kentucky, Citrus Bowl
Sporting News’ Bill Bender: vs. Florida, Peach Bowl
Sports Illustrated’s Eric Single: vs. Mississippi State, Citrus Bowl
SB Nation’s Jason Kirk: vs. Kentucky, Citrus Bowl
CollegeFootballNews: vs. Washington State, Fiesta Bowl
So, what do these projections say about the Nittany Lions’ postseason future? It’s cloudy. Very cloudy.
These projections, made on Sunday or Monday, are more flimsy than normal because it’s difficult to tell what the College Football Playoff committee is going to do Tuesday night. When the updated top-25 rankings are released, Penn State could move up from its No. 12 position. It could theoretically move down, too, even after walloping Maryland 38-3 in the regular-season finale.
The Nittany Lions didn’t receive much help at all over the weekend. On Friday night, No. 8 Washington State fell to No. 16 Washington, giving the Huskies an unexpected Pac-12 title game berth while putting a 10-2 Cougars squad in a waiting game. The same evening, No. 6 Oklahoma beat No. 13 West Virginia, which was good for Penn State. But a day later, No. 11 Florida won its rivalry game against Florida State, and No. 10 Ohio State beat No. 4 Michigan — making the Big Ten’s chances at a playoff bid iffier than before.
At least partially, Penn State’s New Year’s Six fate lies in the hands of Ohio State. If the Buckeyes rout Northwestern in Indianapolis and secure a semifinal spot, then Michigan would go to the Rose Bowl, leaving an open at-large spot for the Nittany Lions. In both projections where Penn State sneaks into a New Year’s Six game, Ohio State is in the final four.
But even if that happens, it doesn’t guarantee the Nittany Lions a spot in the Fiesta or Peach Bowl. If Texas beats Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game, then the Longhorns would go to the Sugar Bowl as the Big 12 rep, and the Sooners would fill an at-large slot.
For now, though, know that the Nittany Lions do have a chance at a third straight New Year’s Six game. They also might end up in the Outback Bowl if Northwestern upsets Ohio State.
But where the committee puts Washington State, Washington and LSU — which lost in seven overtimes at Texas A&M — on Tuesday night will play a significant role in Penn State’s postseason destination.