If I had told you on July 23 that Penn State would finish the season with a good chance at being ranked, would you have believed me? That just might happen, with the latest AP Poll affording Penn State 83 votes, the most of any team outside of the top 25.
With a little help from other teams losing and Wisconsin proving that they’re legit, Penn State improved 3 spots from last week’s 29th overall ranking. That puts the Nittany Lions as 5th in the Big Ten, behind Ohio State (3), Michigan (19), Northwestern (21), and Nebraska (23) respectively.
In all, 21 writers had Penn State on their top 25 ballots. Austin American Statesman writer Kirk Bohls even had Penn State all the way up at number 16 on his ballot — the highest of any other voter.
If Penn State hopes to crack the top 25, they’ll need teams ranked #19-30 to lose to teams that are really bad or really good in their bowl games. Let’s look at some match-ups to keep an eye on.
#19 Michigan vs. #11 South Carolina – Outback Bowl – January 1: A win by South Carolina could knock Michigan out of the top-25 and wouldn’t add another team to the mix. It’s always fun to root again Michigan, but this adds some extra incentive.
#20 Boise State vs. Washington – Las Vegas Bowl – December 22: An upset by Washington would surely help Penn State.
#21 Northwestern vs. Mississippi State – Gator Bowl – January 1: Penn State should be ranked higher than Northwestern anyway, and a win by lowly Mississippi State would assure that that happens.
#22 Louisville vs. #4 Florida – Supar Bowl – January 2: Florida should dominate this game and knock Louisville behind Penn State.
#23 Nebraska vs. #6 Georgia – Capital One Bowl – January 1: Although a Nebraska loss would weaken Penn State’s schedule, here’s another game that should help Penn State if Georgia takes care of business.
#24 San Jose State vs. Bowling Green – Military Bowl – December 27: I don’t even know what to say about this one. Just root for Bowling Green.
#25 Kent State vs. (#36) Arkansas State – GoDaddy.com Bowl – January 6: A dominating win by Arkansas State could put them ahead of Penn State, but probably not. Root for ASU to win in an ugly close game here.
(#27) Vanderbilt vs. N.C. State – Music City Bowl – December 31: Vanderbilt wins, they pass Penn State. N.C. State wins, and they still don’t crack the poll. Go Wolfpack.
(#28) Wisconsin vs. #8 Stanford – Rose Bowl – January 1: This is a tough call. There is likely no scenario where Penn State is ranked higher than Stanford, but a win from Wisconsin would help Penn State’s strength of schedule considerably, adding another ranked team. Hopefully it doesn’t come down to this one.
(#29) Texas vs. #15 Oregon State – Alamo Bowl – 12/29: A dominating win by Texas might be enough to drop the 4 loss Beavers below Penn State, but would also put Texas ahead of Penn State. This is another push.
(#30) San Diego State vs. BYU – Poinsettia Bowl – December 20: Root for BYU to be safe.
Overall, based on these matchups, I like Penn State’s chances to crack the top-25 in the final AP poll. Keep track of these games over the next month and cheer accordingly.
As a Penn State fan, yesterday was a solemn day, watching as other teams found out where they would be spending their winter breaks. But if all goes the right way, Penn State could finish the year with a number next to their name , which is an unexpected accomplishment in itself.