For the first time since 2008, Penn State is ranked inside the top three of the AP Poll.
With half the season in the rearview mirror, bowl eligibility secured, and a number of tough matchups ahead, the Nittany Lions are in the midst of one of their most exciting years in program history.
What The Ranking Means
Penn State has held on to its role in the top five for six consecutive weeks after starting the year at No. 6. This is the most time the program has spent in the top five during a single season since 1999. Previous No. 3 Oklahoma fell to Iowa State to open the door for the Nittany Lions. They have been stuck behind Alabama and Clemson all seven weeks so far this year.
No. 3 is a pretty fair representation of Penn State through six games — lacking a real, signature win against a quality opponent, but usually gliding past its competition.
The last time the Nittany Lions were ranked this high, you could say a few things were different.
Joe Paterno’s team in 2008 started this season 9-0 and peaked at this No. 3 spot before falling to Iowa on the road. James Franklin’s Nittany Lions have already passed the Hawkeye test in Kinnick, but are far from out of the woods.
After the upcoming bye week, Penn State has a chance to solidify or possibly improve upon its ranking with matchups against three ranked opponents in a row — No. 17 Michigan, No. 9 Ohio State, and No. 21 Michigan State. Only the game against the Wolverines will be in the friendly confines of Beaver Stadium.
College Football Playoff
In reality, the AP Poll doesn’t mean anything come the end of the season.
The College Football Playoff selection committee, made up of 13 members with no affiliation to the other polls, is the lone decider of who will grab the four national title playoff spots. Its ranking is not released until the final weeks of the season.
Between the AP Poll, the Coaches Poll, and the CFP ranking, all three usually don’t stray too far from each other. So it’s very possible if the first CFP ranking were to come out today, the Nittany Lions would be No. 3 like they are in both the AP Poll and the Coaches Poll.
However, last season’s biggest discrepancy between the three rankings was where Penn State should stand. After defeating Purdue the week after the Ohio State upset, the Nittany Lions just cracked the list at No 23 in the Coaches and landed at No. 20 in the AP. Both of which came out on Sunday before the first CFP ranking was released on Tuesday, which placed Penn State at No. 12.
The first CFP ranking of 2017 will be released on October 31. If the Nittany Lions are still undefeated, which would mean that they took down both the Wolverines and the Buckeyes, then they will almost certainly be in the all-important top four playoff positions.
However, if they falter, results vary — Michigan and Oklahoma fell nine and 10 spots, respectively, after the first losses of the season, while Ohio State and Florida State stayed in the top 10 after falling to ranked opponents.