Penn State learned its fate in the latest College Football Playoff rankings Tuesday night. The Nittany Lions fell from No. 7 to No. 14 following a last-second loss at Michigan State on Saturday, joining a murky cluster of two-loss teams.
Only four Power 5 programs remain unbeaten, so it’s no surprise these rankings feature a slew of squads that have dealt with adversity during different stages this season. Penn State surged to a 7-0 start, extending its Big Ten win streak to 13 games, before dropping to consecutive Big Ten road games the last two weekends.
Ohio State rallied from a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit to defeat the Nittany Lions, 39-38, on Oct. 28. Last Saturday, Penn State again led entering the final 15 minutes of a Big Ten matchup but ultimately lost 27-24 by virtue of a Spartans field goal. The kick concluded a surreal game setting that featured a three-hour, 23-minute weather delay.
While watching Iowa pile up points against Ohio State on Saturday afternoon en route to a 55-24 victory, it became apparent Penn State had plenty to gain by beating the Spartans. The combination of a Nittany Lions win and Buckeyes loss would’ve opened the door for another Big Ten title run and likely elevated Penn State to No. 6 in playoff rankings.
Instead, both programs tumbled into a collection of two-loss teams. Ohio State sits at No. 13, one spot ahead of Penn State. Both look up at Michigan State, which vaulted 12 spots to No. 12.
Meanwhile, Iowa and Northwestern — teams Penn State defeated on the road this season — are featured at No. 20 and No. 25, respectively.
The Big Ten has 6 teams ranked in the committee's Top 25 this week, most of any conference and its most in a single week in the #CFBPlayoff era.
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 8, 2017
“We’re focused on playing Rutgers [Nov. 11], not on the rankings, not on anything else,” Nittany Lions coach James Franklin said Tuesday. “We’re focused on Rutgers. We’re focused on Penn State, and developing our players and loving our players and coaching our players and teaching our players and having our players teach us. The more times we keep our focus like that, we’ll have a program we can all be really proud of and have a chance to be successful on Saturdays.”
Sitting between 10 and 15 is almost a tease at this stage. Madness would likely need to ensue for any of these programs to leap into the playoff tournament. There will of course be chaos in college football during these next four weeks, including all-important conference championships, but one-loss squads such as Notre Dame (No. 3), Clemson (No. 4), Oklahoma (No. 5), TCU (No. 6) and Washington (No. 9) are in far better position to capitalize on others’ misfortune.
Unbeaten Miami (No. 7) and Wisconsin (No. 8) remain on the outside looking in, though both surely control their own destiny. That’s no longer the case for the two-loss tier, however, which is topped by Auburn (No. 10).
This time next week, Michigan State or Ohio State will fall out of the group following their Saturday game. Penn State stares ahead at games they’ll be highly favored to win: vs. Rutgers and Nebraska, then at Maryland. There is certainly a chance for a return to top-10 territory.
Penn State finds itself in the “shoulda, coulda, woulda” crowd of playoff contenders, but considering where the Nittany Lions have come from during these past 14 months, it’s not bad company to keep.
“Our players haven’t forgotten how to play and our coaches haven’t forgotten how to coach,” Franklin said. “We’ve played two really good opponents, and we lost by a total of four points. We’ve got to find a way to come out on top in those situations more often than we are right now. Again, we’ve been pretty successful overall, but not as successful as we want to be and not as successful as our fans want us to be. I can guarantee there’s nobody working harder at it than the guys in our locker room and the coaches in our office.”
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