With losses in back-to-back weeks, the postseason outlook for Penn State football changed substantially heading into week 11. The Nittany Lions are expected to bounce back this weekend, as Big Ten bottom-feeder Rutgers visits Beaver Stadium.
Following last week’s last-second heartbreaker in East Lansing, James Franklin’s squad rolls ranked No. 14 in this week’s College Football Playoff rankings. With the playoff likely out of reach, Penn State’s more realistic postseason destinations lie in Florida. We broke down each postseason scenario, going from first to last by current probability.
First, the Citrus Bowl is currently the most probable outcome for the Nittany Lions. A matchup with an SEC team would likely come against Auburn, a future opponent, or LSU. Penn State wins out in this scenario, with Ohio State also going undefeated the rest of the way. Assuming not much chaos happens among the top twelve teams, the Nittany Lions will fall off of the New Year’s Six bubble and into this game. This would be the program’s fourth Citrus Bowl appearance, with the last visit coming in 1997.
The second best available Big Ten team that isn’t chosen by a New Year’s Six bowl would likely go to the Outback Bowl. Depending on how Penn State and Ohio State do down the stretch, the Nittany Lions could be demoted to this game in Tampa. If Penn State were to lose one of its remaining games, or if Ohio State dropped a game to Michigan, Michigan State, or in the conference championship game, the Blue and White would be in this matchup. Another Big Ten-SEC crossover would likely produce an opponent such as Mississippi State, LSU, or Kentucky. This would be Penn State’s first visit since 2010, and fifth visit all-time.
At-Large In New Year’s Six
If Ohio State were to lose to Michigan State and Wisconsin, the Badgers would likely find themselves in the top four. This opens the door for Penn State to take an at-large spot as the second-highest ranked team in the conference. In addition, a little bit of extra chaos wouldn’t hurt the Nittany Lions. The final three games would also need to feature major style points for the Blue and White, who lack a signature win. If the Nittany Lions were to be considered for the New Year’s Six games, a trip to the Cotton, Fiesta, Orange, or Peach Bowl would be in store. The Nittany Lions latest appearance among these four options was the Orange Bowl in 2005.
This scenario comes into play if Penn State were to lose a game and if Michigan State won out. Assuming Ohio State wins their other two regular season games, Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Ohio State would all finish in front of the Nittany Lions. With Penn State heavily favored in their remaining games, it’s unlikely that they find themselves in this spot. However, a let-down game could happen against a traditional powerhouse like Nebraska. The Holiday Bowl would pair them against a Pac-12 team. Washington State, UCLA, or Arizona would be the most likely opponents in the San Diego showdown.
College Football Playoff
Okay, bear with me on this one.
First, Penn State and Michigan would need to win out. Ohio State and Michigan State would also have to lose two of their last three games. This would send Penn State back to the B1G Championship for the second consecutive season. That in itself would lock the Nittany Lions into a New Year’s Six bowl at the minimum. This is very unlikely however, as Michigan State would have to lose to either Maryland or Rutgers (assuming Ohio State beats them) and the Buckeyes would have to lose to Illinois in addition to the Wolverines.
If this did somehow happen, the Badgers would still remain. With a win over Wisconsin, what would Penn State need to reach the semifinal?
Well, they’d likely need something like this:
- Auburn splits their games against Georgia and Alabama, and whoever the Tigers lose to runs the table and wins the SEC title game. This would ensure an undefeated SEC winner as that conference’s only playoff participant, if the committee leaves out the two-loss runner-up.
- Washington and USC lose at least one more game each, eliminating the Pac-12, OR Oklahoma and TCU each lose at least one more game, eliminating the Big 12. Only one of these conferences can make it for this scenario to work.
- Miami knocks off Notre Dame, but Clemson stomps the Hurricanes in the ACC Championship. This eliminates Miami and limits the ACC to one team.
- With Notre Dame’s loss, how would an independent 10-2 Fighting Irish team compare to an 11-2 B1G Champion Penn State team who was spurned last season? Plus, the Golden Domes still have to travel to Stanford, led by Heisman candidate Bryce Love.
Very, very, very…. unlikely folks, but that is Penn State’s “completely possible” path back into the top four of the playoff.