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Road To Indy: How Penn State Can Still Make The Big Ten Championship

We’ve had a day to cool down after a tough end to an incredible White Out weekend. For the second straight year, the Nittany Lions’ College Football Playoff and Big Ten Championship hopes have taken a blow thanks to a blown fourth-quarter lead and one-point loss to the Buckeyes.

It’s only five weeks into the season — No. 11 Penn State’s hopes for either postseason berth aren’t dead and buried. But if it’s going to grab one of the playoff’s four spots, there’s no better resume booster than lifting a conference title (usually ¯\_(ツ)_/¯). Making it to Indianapolis for the Big Ten title game is the most important path to achieving these postseason goals.

After getting taken out by the Big Ten East favorites, how do the Nittany Lions now go about claiming the top of the division?

Winning Out Solves Most of Penn State’s Problems

The one thing that’s almost for certain: Penn State will have to win out on a schedule that includes No. 15 Michigan, No. 16 Wisconsin, and No. 20 Michigan State, as well as trap opponents Indiana and Iowa. No team from the East has ever emerged with two conferences losses, and it’s hard to believe that will change, even in a division that’s meant to cannibalize itself.

If Penn State were to finish the regular season 11-1, that would mean it holds a head-to-head tiebreaker against every school in its division but Ohio State.

It gets a bit complicated from there for the Nittany Lions.

Penn State could come out of a three-way tiebreaker if it wins out and Ohio State loses to one of the other undefeated teams in conference from the East division — Michigan, Michigan State, and Maryland — and that school wins out with the exception of its game against the Nittany Lions. If that happens, the three schools would remain tied until the fifth tiebreaker — “best cumulative conference winning percentage of non-divisional opponents.”

It’s too early in the season to tell, but Penn State likely has the upper hand against all teams but Michigan in that category because both face the West’s usual top team, Wisconsin.

Ohio State Losing Twice

Long story short, the only way to guarantee a trip to Indianapolis on December 1 for Penn State if it wins out would be for Ohio State to lose twice. To make matters worse, Ohio State doesn’t have as tough of a schedule as the Nittany Lions do through the rest of the slate.

The Buckeyes play Indiana and Minnesota at home prior to their bye week on October 27, before traveling to Purdue. Those three matchups really shouldn’t trouble them.

After hosting currently winless Nebraska, Ohio State faces its three biggest remaining challenges to cap off the year:

  • November 10 — at No. 20 Michigan State
  • November 17 — at Maryland
  • November 24 — vs. No. 15 Michigan

The Terrapins did upset now-No. 19 Texas earlier in the season, but they’re still the team that got throttled by Penn State last year and lost to Temple this year. They really aren’t the most likely candidates to challenge the Buckeyes.

It will likely come down to the two Michigan schools pulling off major wins over the nation’s third-ranked team.

It seems like a long shot, but it’s not a much different situation than it was in 2016 for the Nittany Lions. They needed an undefeated Michigan to drop two of its last three games. The Wolverines fell on the road to Iowa before getting taken out by Ohio State in overtime on the final day of the regular season.

Can lighting strike twice for Penn State?


Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story stated that the first tiebreaker in a three-way tie is overall record. This has since been corrected. We apologize for the error.

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About the Author

Steve Connelly

Unfortunately, former editor Steve Connelly has graduated. Where is he now? He might be doing something related to that PR degree he got in 2019. Maybe he finally opened that sports bar named after one of his photos, the Blurry Zamboni. Or he might just be eating chicken tenders and couch surfing. Anything’s possible. If you really want to know, follow him on Twitter @slc2o.

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