Penn State projection for College Football Playoff rankings: No. 9 at worst

Goodbye projections; hello, reality.

Bowl tickets are getting punched Sunday. And barring something wacky during the final midweek reveal of the College Football Playoff selection committee’s Top 25 (and who are we to rule out wacky?) Tuesday night, it seems as if Penn State’s ticket at the end of next month is bound for Dallas-Fort Worth, Miami-Fort Lauderdale, Atlanta or Phoenix.

The Nittany Lions (10-2 overall, 7-2 Big Ten) remained at No. 10 in last week’s rankings after closing out the home slate with a win against Nebraska. But with former No. 2 Miami destined to fall hard after a loss at — wait for it, stop giggling — unranked Pitt to close out the regular season and No. 8 Notre Dame likely to fall even harder after getting clubbed at No. 21 Stanford, it’s likely coach James Franklin’s crew creeps up at least one spot, at the worst.

And, no, it isn’t the top 4, which is where Lions fans had hoped to see the final chapter of 2017 play out. Still, a No. 9 ranking has some historical significance attached— no Power 5 teams that wound up slotted among the top 9 of the final CFP rankings have failed to receive a New Year’s Six bid.

So basically, it’s just a matter of where.

And when.

And, thanks to the Cardinal, a question of against whom.

For a few weeks, a Cotton Bowl berth against Notre Dame seemed like a matchup that checked every box: Traditional Midwestern/Eastern powers that used to see other a lot, but haven’t for a while — the Nittany Lions last faced the Fighting Irish in State College back in September 2007. The overall series is tied at 9-9-1. Box office gold, right?

But then Stanford thumped Notre Dame (9-3) at home Saturday night, 38-20, handing the Irish their third loss overall and second de-pantsing in two weeks. Suddenly, a New Year’s Six look for coach Brian Kelly seems like a bit of a long shot.

A Penn State berth in the Cotton Bowl is still on the table, though, because of the regional preferences of the other New Year’s Six contests. The Fiesta Bowl is likely to take the Pac-12 champion — USC or Stanford — to fill one of its two at-large slots. The Peach Bowl is expected to do the same with the winner of the AAC championship between Central Florida and Memphis.

The Orange Bowl is obligated to take an ACC team for one of its slots, and pair that team — likely the loser of Clemson-Miami — against the highest-ranked non-champion school from the Big Ten, the SEC or Notre Dame.

We know we can rule out the Irish there, but pay careful attention to where Auburn (10-2), Georgia (11-1) and Alabama (11-1) land in the last pre-December CFP Top 25. If the Lions are to be tapped by the Orange, where they haven’t played since 2006, they’ll have to jump at least one of those SEC squads — and the Crimson Tide, like the Lions, are sitting at home this upcoming weekend, waiting for the fallout.

Given that the Fiesta Bowl would probably like to avoid hosting Ohio State for a second straight winter but might also want to avoid a rematch of January’s Rose Bowl classic (a 52-49 USC win over Penn State), you might want to keep one eye on the Pac-12 title game between the Trojans and Cardinal, too. If 2017 has taught us anything so far, it’s that reality can bite — usually when you least expect it.

The post Penn State projection for College Football Playoff rankings: No. 9 at worst appeared first on Land of 10.

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