College football rankings are all one giant beauty pageant; the model of judgement isn’t based on winning, but winning sexy.
Penn State won this weekend, but failed to cover after closing as 21.5 point favorites against the Panthers and ended up falling in the AP Poll to No. 5. USC, on the other hand, beat the life out of then-No. 14 Stanford, and subsequently leapfrogged the Nittany Lions in the latest AP Top 25 poll.
Oklahoma went into Columbus an underdog and emerged victorious; the Sooners earned their spot at No. 2. Clemson followed the template of playing an out-of-conference heavyweight in Auburn, who was No. 13 at the time, and took them down; the Tigers earned their spot at No. 3. The aforementioned teams played elite competition and won, hence the climb up the latest AP Top 25 Poll.
Some fans were angry, and rightfully so. But at the end of the day, none of this matters.
The Nittany Lions didn’t beat a heavyweight, and dropped one spot as a result. Winning against the likes of Michigan and Ohio State will change all of that. So sure, it’s annoying to see the Nittany Lions bumped in favor of the remainder of college football’s elites, but the crux of Penn State’s omission from the playoff at the end of last season was the unfortunate fact that it had two losses, while the rest of the playoff field had either one or zero.
It’s a simple formula to just win, but it’s tough to forget last year’s bitter ending to the College Football Playoff chase.
Fresh off an awe-inspiring comeback against Wisconsin to capture the Big Ten Championship, the Nittany Lions got snubbed in the final College Football Playoff ranking of the season in favor of Ohio State, the team it beat earlier in the year who went on to get shut out in the semifinal against eventual national champion Clemson.
It’s natural to feel like college football’s higher powers — in this case, those who hold votes in the AP Top 25 along with the College Football Playoff committee — are against the Nittany Lions, but there’s pretty much just one antidote that’ll ensure no such controversy ensues: winning.
So, while it’s fun to see the Nittany Lions ranked atop the heap again, winning is the only thing that matters. Pay the rankings no mind — especially this early in the season. As long as Penn State wins games, it’ll stay where it needs to be. The AP Poll is fun for that very reason, but it’s also just a placeholder for the CFP ranking that’ll actually determine whether or not the Nittany Lions get a shot in the four-team playoff and render the AP Poll completely irrelevant.
If the Nittany Lions take care of business like they’re expected to, then they won’t have any trouble convincing the playoff committee that they belong.