Chaos didn’t go Penn State’s way over the weekend — but a trip to a New Year’s Six bowl is within reach.
The Nittany Lions are No. 12 in Tuesday’s updated College Football Playoff top 25, staying put after last week’s rankings, despite three teams ahead of them falling in Week 13.
The top finally saw some shakeup, with Georgia sliding into the No. 4 spot after Ohio State throttled Michigan. Alabama, Clemson and Notre Dame held firm in the semifinal positions. Oklahoma and Ohio State are temporarily on the outside looking in at Nos. 5 and 6, respectively, with Michigan, UCF, Florida and LSU rounding out the top 10 in that order.
Florida, which dominated Florida State in a 41-14 win, stayed ahead of the Nittany Lions at No. 9. Ed Orgeron’s 9-3 Tigers — who fell in seven overtimes to Texas A&M on the road — dropped three spots from No. 7. And 10-2 Washington State, whose playoff hopes were dashed with an Apple Cup loss in the snow to Washington, fell from No. 8 to 13.
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So, what does all this mean for the Nittany Lions’ postseason prospects? As CBS Sports bracketologist and projections expert Jerry Palm wrote, “(Penn State) finds itself squarely on the New Year’s Six bubble.”
A third consecutive New Year’s Six appearance is possible. Before the rankings were released, USA Today’s Erick Smith and Sporting News’ Bill Bender had the Nittany Lions playing in the Peach Bowl, while CollegeFootballNews had them pegged for the Fiesta Bowl.
But the Nittany Lions’ path isn’t as clear-cut as it was this time last week.
Michigan’s loss to Ohio State means the Big Ten’s playoff chances are in limbo. The Buckeyes need to blow out Northwestern, and even then, they might not make it in. Should Ohio State win and be left out of the final four in favor of Oklahoma or Georgia, Urban Meyer’s crew goes to the Rose Bowl, and Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan takes up an at-large selection no one thought it would seven days ago.
The Gators’ 27-point dismantling of rival Florida State likely guaranteed Dan Mullen will go to the Peach or Fiesta Bowl in his first year in Gainesville. That takes up one of three at-large spots; the fourth is given to the highest-ranked Group of 5 champion, likely UCF, Boise State or Fresno State.
If Ohio State gets into the playoff, those final two at-large berths will be between Penn State, Washington State and LSU. And the committee made its voice heard Tuesday night. None of those teams are playing conference championship weekend, so aside from indirect strength of schedule boosters, these rankings should hold, which is good for the Nittany Lions.
It shouldn’t be surprising to see Washington State ranked behind the Nittany Lions. Sure, Wazzu has just two losses — but the committee dropped a two-loss West Virginia team behind Penn State last week. The Pac-12 is the weakest it’s been in years, and the Cougars’ non-conference schedule (Wyoming, San Jose State, Eastern Washington) wasn’t necessarily inspiring. At least Penn State beat Pitt by 45 points, a team somehow playing in the ACC title game.
Now, it’s not as if the Nittany Lions have looked like a juggernaut this season. Penn State lost two winnable games at home, the second of which looks worse and worse with Michigan State floundering to the finish line, barely beating Rutgers to close out the season. And the Nittany Lions — despite demolishing Maryland by 35 last Saturday — didn’t impress in their 20-7 win over the Scarlet Knights two weeks ago.
Still, the rankings don’t lie. Penn State and its rabid fan base willing to travel have a chance at a New Year’s Six bid.