Penn State moved up in College Football Playoff rankings Tuesday night following a 66-3 win at Maryland. The Nittany Lions’ largest margin of victory in Big Ten action, combined with Notre Dame’s loss to Stanford, resulted in a No. 9 ranking.
Penn State spent the past two weeks at No. 10, and has been a top-10 team in four of five playoff rankings dating back to an initial Oct. 31 reveal. The Nittany Lions started this process at No. 7, and could potentially climb back into the top-seven based on results of upcoming conference championships.
Unlike last year, Penn State won’t take part in the battle for a Big Ten title. Wisconsin (No. 4) would solidify a playoff spot if it beats Ohio State (No. 8), while the Buckeyes may still have a narrow, albeit unlikely, chance to rise into the top 4.
A Wisconsin win would leave Penn State as the second-ranked Big Ten team in final playoff standings, providing a remarkably strong case for New Year’s Six bowl inclusion. Regardless of what happens this weekend, that’s where the Nittany Lions appear headed.
The Orange Bowl is the only New Year’s Six game with established tie-ins, as it pairs an ACC representative with the highest ranked team from Big Ten or SEC action. Notre Dame also has a tie-in, but the team’s loss at Stanford sent it plummeting from No. 8 to No. 15.
It’s hard to imagine the loser of Auburn-Georgia this Saturday would fall below the Nittany Lions, though another lopsided loss to the Tigers in the SEC championship game could create some potential for that to happen to the Bulldogs. Alabama, now sitting at No. 5, is in enviable striking distance to give the conference two playoff competitors.
There is a chance Penn State could end up facing the third-highest ranked SEC squad, which would create a challenging matchup vs. a highly respected opponent. That’s ultimately the goal for these Nittany Lions moving ahead: An opportunity to deliver a signature victory with its 11th win of the season.
Other conference championship games worth monitoring can be found in the Pac-12 (No. 10 USC vs. No. 12 Stanford) and Big 12 (No. 3 Oklahoma vs. No. 11 TCU).
Penn State could potentially match up with the Pac-12 winner, creating a revenge opportunity vs. USC after a thrilling 2017 Rose Bowl. If Oklahoma fails to seal the deal for a playoff spot, it may set up a showcase including anticipated Heisman Trophy finalists Saquon Barkley and Baker Mayfield. If TCU is thrashed by the Sooners, it would put the Horned Frogs at risk of falling out of New Year’s Six contention.
Meanwhile, No. 13 Washington and No. 14 UCF are other possibilities. Washington, a two-loss team, appeared in the playoff last winter. UCF must defeat Memphis in the American Athletic Conference championship Saturday to have any shot at a New Year’s Six bowl, and rumors continue to swirl about coach Scott Frost leaving for a Power 5 job offer.
Penn State’s ultimate bowl destination is important for travel plans, both it’s the matchup itself that matters most. Judging by the company near the top of playoff rankings, the Nittany Lions are in excellent shape to finish this season against a well-respected opponent.
A win would probably send Penn State surging into top-7 territory in final Associated Press rankings for the second straight year. It would be the first such accomplished in consecutive seasons for the program since 1985-86.
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