Championship Weekend: The Path to Penn State in a New Year's Six Bowl (If That's Your Thing)

By John Morgan on November 30, 2018 at 8:00 am
Dec 30, 2017; Glendale, AZ, USA; General view of the field prior to the game between the Washington Huskies and the Penn State Nittany Lions in the 2017 Fiesta Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

It seems like a short time ago when I wasted hours breaking down Penn State's path to a Big Ten East title after the Ohio State game. It was fun while it lasted for a few hours, but Penn State finished at 9-3 and took Jim Harbaugh's spot as the third place finisher in the division. Now, it's Championship Weekend for college football and the games themselves don't have that same feeling. With several lopsided divisions in the Power Five conferences, there are only a few games that move the needle.

Penn State checked in at No. 12 in the latest College Football Playoff rankings on Tuesday and will need some help this weekend if they want to land in a New Year's Six bowl for the third consecutive year. These scenarios are under the assumption that Clemson beats Pitt (who Penn State defeated 51-6) in the ACC Championship. The Pac-12 Championship game winner is headed to the Rose Bowl so that slot is locked. In the essence of time, we will pick Washington to win as a 5.5-point favorite over the Utah Utes.  

Scenario #1 - Georgia drops from the top 4 and is replaced by Oklahoma

  • Alabama beats Georgia
  • Ohio State beats Northwestern
  • Oklahoma beats Texas
  • Washington beats Utah
  • Clemson beats the team that Penn State beat 51-6

This scenario would not be good for Penn State landing in the New Year's Six. If Oklahoma wins and Georgia isn't within the 13.5-point spread, Oklahoma could enter the College Football Playoff. That would leave only three at-large spots and that doesn't bode well for Penn State. The Sugar Bowl would then take the next highest Big-12 team to fill a void as long as they are in the top 20 in the rankings so Texas or West Virginia would fill that spot. 

RLR Projections in Scenario #1

  • CFB Playoff: Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, and Oklahoma
  • Sugar Bowl: West Virginia vs. Georgia
  • Rose Bowl: Ohio State vs. Washington
  • Fiesta Bowl: UCF vs. LSU
  • Peach Bowl: Michigan vs. Florida

Scenario #2: Georgia Drops from the top 4 and is replaced by Ohio State

This would be ideal for Penn State in getting into the New Year's Six. It would take Oklahoma just sneaking by Texas in the Big-12 Championship game and Ohio State channeling their beatdown of Wisconsin in the 2014 Big Ten Title game. If we're looking at the full resume, Ohio State's is more impressive than Oklahoma's. Ohio State's loss last season to Iowa kept them out of them out of the playoff and this year they have a huge loss to Purdue, but their wins are much better than the Sooners'. In this instance, Michigan would head to the Rose Bowl and Oklahoma would be destined for the Sugar Bowl.

RLR Projections in Scenario #2

  • CFB Playoff: Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, Ohio State
  • Sugar Bowl: Oklahoma vs. Georgia
  • Rose Bowl: Michigan vs. Washington
  • Fiesta Bowl: LSU vs. UCF
  • Peach Bowl: PENN STATE vs. Florida

Scenario #3: Georgia Beats Alabama in the SEC Championship Game

This is the one that seems to be improbable, but not impossible. Alabama seems to be a lock for the playoff regardless of the outcome, but should they lose and fall out of the playoff, see scenarios one or two. If the Bulldogs can pull this off and Alabama gets a lower seed, this too would benefit Penn State in landing in the New Year's Six. With both of those teams in the playoff, that would bump Florida up to the automatic SEC bid for the Sugar Bowl, clearing up an at-large bid that would surely be filled by Penn State.

RLR Projections in Scenario #3

  • CFB Playoff: Clemson, Georgia, Notre Dame, Alabama
  • Sugar Bowl: Florida vs. Oklahoma
  • Rose Bowl: Ohio State vs. Washington
  • Fiesta Bowl: Michigan vs. UCF
  • Peach Bowl: LSU vs. PENN STATE

Scenario #4: Alabama Beats Georgia, but the Standings Remain the Same

Should Georgia lose a close one to Alabama, there is a chance they would remain in the top four. While this seems unlikely with two one-loss teams behind them, never underestimate the love for the SEC. This scenario would play out much like the one above, but let's mix it up for our purposes.

RLR Projections in Scenario #4

  • CFB Playoff: Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, Georgia
  • Sugar Bowl: Florida vs. Oklahoma
  • Rose Bowl: Ohio State vs. Washington
  • Fiesta Bowl: PENN STATE vs. UCF
  • Peach Bowl: Michigan vs. LSU

Scenario #5: Money Talks

This is a much like scenario one above, but in the end, the people choosing these bowl matchups have money on their mind. Ticket sales and TV ratings drive the train so a slight injustice to a three-loss team is no skin off their back as long as their pockets are lined with money. This too seems unlikely, but if there is someone on a bowl committee that feels like Penn State could generate more revenue than Florida or LSU then all bets are off. In this instance, I'll use Oklahoma as the playoff team, but it's interchangeable with them, Ohio State, or Georgia for these purposes.

RLR Projections in Scenario #5

  • CFB Playoff: Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, Oklahoma
  • Sugar Bowl: Georgia vs. WVU
  • Rose Bowl: Ohio State vs. Washington
  • Fiesta Bowl: Michigan vs. UCF
  • Peach Bowl: PENN STATE vs. LSU or Florida

In the end, Penn State's bowl game will be in Florida, Arizona or Georgia. The Citrus Bowl against Kentucky seems to be odds-on on favorite heading into the weekend. The funny thing is that this season has many parallels to the 1998 season when Penn State took on Kentucky and future No. 1 pick Tim Couch, in the Outback Bowl. Couch went first overall in the 1999 NFL Draft while Outback Bowl MVP Courtney Brown went No. 1 in the 2000 NFL Draft. Penn State had three conference losses that season and picked up their 9th win by defeating the Wildcats.

Championship weekend may not have the juice and the excitement that a weekend like this should, but there is plenty to keep an eye on as Penn State sits idle. The two losses to Ohio State and Michigan State defined this season so all the Nittany Lions can do is sit back and watch. We shall all do the same, I suppose.

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