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Penn State’s Path To The College Football Playoff

Just about everyone had written the Nittany Lions off after back-to-back devastating losses, but somehow, someway, Penn State’s College Football Playoff hopes could still be alive.

The chaotic world that is college football shined its tumultuous nature once again this weekend with so-called CFP locks Georgia and Notre Dame getting blown out. With its win over Rutgers and a trio of other losses inside the top 15, Penn State moved up four spots to No. 10 on Tuesday’s weekly CFP Top 25 release.

Penn State surely controls its own destiny as far as its New Year’s Six fate goes, but in what convoluted world can the Nittany Lions reach the top four for a spot in one of the College Football Playoff semifinals?

Week 12 — Penn State Moves Up To No. 9

Penn State defeats Nebraska
Michigan defeats Wisconsin

The Nittany Lions take on Nebraska at home Saturday in what (regardless would be a must-win game at this point in the season) is definitely a must-win considering the fact that the Cornhuskers are having a down 4-6 year.

The move up one spot happens thanks to the newfound offensive prowess that No. 24 Michigan’s shown these past two weekends, which will hopefully put the Wolverines past the fifth-ranked Badgers.

Week 13 — Penn State Moves Up To No. 6

Penn State defeats Maryland
Alabama defeats Auburn
Michigan defeats Ohio State
Stanford defeats Notre Dame

In Penn State’s final game before bowl season (barring an absurd final two weekends in the Big Ten East that seems way outside the realm of possibility, even for college football), the Nittany Lions get a very winnable matchup with another below-.500 team in the Maryland Terrapins.

This weekend of chaos is what could spark some hope for the Nittany Lions. The best case scenario for Penn State is that No. 1 Alabama stays undefeated and takes down projected-No. 5 Auburn. As for the upsets, Michigan will have to help out the Nittany Lions once again by knocking off No. 8 Ohio State (a game that will be played in the Big House) and then-No. 7 Notre Dame will have to fall to a ranked Stanford team when it travels to Palo Alto.

Considering both of these upsets will be road games and both of the two top 25 teams are on hot streaks at the moment, neither result is completely out of the realm of possibility.

Final CFP Ranking — Penn State Reaches Top Four

Alabama defeats Georgia
Miami defeats Clemson
TCU defeats Oklahoma
Stanford defeats USC

Penn State won’t be the conference champion and will not even play in Indy for the Big Ten title, but it’s not like that held Ohio State back last year. This year, in this scenario, the jostling for those top spots has been even more shambolic, which plays into the hands of a 10-2 Penn State team with a pair of wins against teams that will finish inside the Top 25. The fashion in which Penn State lost its two games can’t hurt either — both coming on the road against ranked opponents by a grand total of four points in the two losses combined.

During the conference championship games, Penn State needs top-ranked Bama to take down Georgia and officially knock out the Bulldogs. The Nittany Lions could also use a Miami win over Clemson in the battle of those top three teams because it gives the selection committee a chance to knock out a two-loss Clemson team compared to a one-loss Hurricanes team with a stronger resume in November.

To finish it off, it wouldn’t hurt Penn State if then-No. 4 Oklahoma fell to a surging TCU side and Stanford to once again take down USC, which would either be ahead of Penn State prior to this game or lurking right behind the Nittany Lions for one of those top four spots. These results should yield either a No. 3 or No. 4 spot in the College Football Playoff for James Franklin’s squad.

Why The Big 12/Pac 12 Title Games Matter

There is no formula for how the CFP selection committee selects its four teams. In the past it’s focused on conference champions, then threw that strategy out the window last year and looked at resumes. Who’s to say what teams the committee will select once the season comes to a close, so the more losses that teams ahead of or closely behind the Nittany Lions accumulate, the more leeway Penn State has to reach one of those top four spots.

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About the Author

Anthony Colucci

Anthony Colucci is Onward State’s Social Media Manager, a preferred walk-on honors student, and a junior majoring in psychology and public relations. Despite being from the make-believe land of Central Jersey, he was never a Rutgers fan. If you ever want to know how good Saquon Barkley's ball security is, ask Anthony what happened when he tried to force a fumble at the Mifflin Streak. Feel free to follow @_anthonycolucci on Twitter and email him at [email protected] to hear the story or if you’re bored and want to chat.


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