Penn State sits at 8-1 after their 31-26 loss at Minnesota on Saturday. Last season when the Nittany Lions lost to Ohio State, I spent more hours than I care to admit on what they needed to do to ensure the best possible outcome on the season. As it turned out, that was all moot as Penn State lost the following weekend to Michigan State and then again to Michigan. This season the path is clearer, but it’s just as difficult with No. 1 Ohio State looming in two weeks.
Minnesota was actually a game the Nittany Lions could afford to lose in the big picture, but they cannot slip up again if they want any shot of making the College Football Playoff. Had Penn State beat the Golden Gophers, but lost to Ohio State, the Rose Bowl was the likely destination, but I will get to that.
Please also note that these scenarios are based on an assumption that Penn State beats both Indiana and Rutgers. Should they lose either of those, they will end up with a trip somewhere warm over the holidays and nothing more.
|Ohio State||Rutgers||Penn State||Michigan|
Bold denotes home games
|LSU||Ole Miss||Arkansas||Texas A&M|
|Alabama||Mississippi State||Western Carolina||Auburn|
|Georgia||Auburn||Texas A&M||Georgia Tech|
|Oregon||Arizona||Arizona State||Oregon State|
|Clemson||Wake Forest||Idle||South Carolina|
Bold denotes home games
Scenario/DESTINATION 1: College Football Playoff
We might as well get this out of the way, but Penn State has to beat Ohio State in order to win the Big Ten East. If they win their next three games, they would be heading to Indianapolis for a chance at a rematch against Minnesota. The Golden Gophers have plenty of work ahead of them is certainly no lock to make it with games against Iowa and Wisconsin looming. Iowa and Illinois could factor in the division as well, but that seems unlikely and would require some major upsets.
If Penn State would get to Indy and win, it would have a strong argument for a bid to the college football playoff. To be safe, Penn State fans should be rooting for LSU to win out, and Alabama and Georgia to lose a game. Baylor would need to lose as well, but they still have Oklahoma and Texas remaining. Penn State's hypothetical win over Ohio State would be one of the best wins in the country, and their overall resume would be very formidable. There is basically no scenario that would allow a two-loss Penn State team into the playoff.
Scenario/DESTINATION 2: Rose Bowl
This is where Penn State’s loss to Minnesota hurts because had they won, the Rose Bowl would have been the worst case scenario regardless of the Ohio State outcome. There is still a chance they could get there, and here's how.
1. Penn State loses to Ohio State and finishes 10-2
To get to the Rose Bowl in this scenario, Penn State is going to need some help. The Lions need Minnesota to take two losses, which isn't out of the question. The Gophers head to Iowa, still play Wisconsin and potentially the Buckeyes. If there are multiple Big Ten teams with two losses and Ohio State is heading to the playoff, the Lions would have to like their position.
Scenario/DESTINATION 3: New Year’s Six Bowl
These scenarios are based on Penn State losing to Ohio State. The only two non-Rose NY6 games that Penn State could qualify for would be the Orange Bowl or the Cotton Bowl. The ACC will get one of the slots for the Orange Bowl, and assuming Clemson wins out and makes the College Football Playoff, it's anyone's guess which other ACC team would get that spot. The Cotton Bowl will likely have the Group of 5 qualifier so that leaves two at-large spots for teams like Penn State, Georgia, Alabama or Florida. Here are some scenarios of the College Football Playoff and the remaining teams and bowls.
1. LSU, Ohio State, Clemson and Oregon make the CFP
In this scenario, Penn State would have trouble getting into a NY6 Bowl if there aren’t more upsets. Alabama, Georgia and Florida could all be ranked higher than the Nittany Lions and Utah would take a spot in the Rose Bowl. There would be a debate on a third SEC team getting an at-large bid over Penn State or Utah.
|Bowl Game||projected matchup|
|Rose Bowl||Minnesota (Big Ten) vs. Utah (Pac-12)|
|Sugar Bowl||Oklahoma/Baylor (Big 12) vs. Alabama (SEC)|
|Cotton Bowl||Memphis (Group of 5) vs. Georgia (at-large)|
|Orange Bowl||Wake Forest, Virginia, Virginia Tech (ACC) vs. Florida (at-large)|
2 LSU, Ohio State, Clemson and Alabama or Georgia make the CFP
This scenario would require Oregon to lose a game or be left out of the playoff and send them to the Rose Bowl. This also assumes that Alabama, Florida and Georgia all win out.
|Bowl Game||Projected matchup|
|Rose Bowl||Minnesota (Big Ten) vs. Oregon (Pac-12)|
|Sugar Bowl||Oklahoma/Baylor (Big 12) vs. Alabama or Georgia (SEC)|
|Cotton Bowl||Memphis (Group of 5) vs. Florida (at-large)|
|Orange Bowl||Wake Forest, Virginia, Virginia Tech (ACC) vs. Penn State (at-large)|
What Should Penn State Fans Root For?
The obvious answer is to beat Ohio State and go on to win the Big Ten Championship. Since the Nittany Lions will be a double-digit underdog heading into next weekend's game, here are some games to keep an eye on in the following weeks.
|11/16||Minnesota at Iowa||The Golden Gophers are an underdog heading into Kinnick on Saturday and coming off an emotional big win they could be on upset alert.|
|11/16||Georgia at Auburn||The Buldogs are a slight favorite, but Penn State should be rooting for them to get a second loss prior to the SEC Title game. With other games against Texas A&M and Georgia Tech, this game seems to be the best chance for Georgia to get the loss.|
|11/16||Florida at Missouri||The Gators are a touchdown favorite on the road against the Tigers. Florida only has two games remaining and their finale is against Florida State. This is a loss Penn State fans would want to see in order to help their New Year's Six bowl chances.|
|11/16||Oklahoma at Baylor||Baylor is a 10-point home underdog and could be looking at their first loss. Penn State fans would probably want Oklahoma to win this one, but then would need to root for the Sooners to lose one more game.|
|11/23||Oregon at Arizona State||Oregon not making the playoff would help Penn State's chances at a New Year's Six bowl. That would likely mean that the Pac-12 only gets the Rose Bowl nod and would help the Nittany Lions getting in the Orange or Cotton Bowl. Go Sun Devils.|
|11/23||Texas at Baylor||Regardless of the outcome in the Baylor vs. Oklahoma game, Penn State fans would want Texas to win this. It would either be to get Baylor their first loss or position Texas to take on Oklahoma in the Big-12 Championship.|
|11/30||Alabama at Auburn||It is too early to determine what Penn State fans will want for this game. The Penn State Ohio State game will occur prior to this and what Minnesota and Wisconsin do also will impact the rooting interest.|
|11/30||Oklahoma at Oklahoma State||In all likelihood, Penn State fans will be pulling for Oklahoma State in this game.|
There are still plenty of meaningful games to be played and these are my best guesses on what would benefit the Nittany Lions. This could all be moot if Penn State loses to Indiana on Saturday, but controlled chaos is the desirable outcome this weekend. Check back each week for an overview of Blue and White's post-season scenarios.