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Penn State Football’s Postseason Possibilities Following Minnesota Loss

Penn State football suffered its first loss of the season to Minnesota on Saturday, but the team’s postseason potential didn’t really take too much of a hit.

The Nittany Lions fell 31-26 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis and dropped to 8-1 on the year as a result. Although the result definitely hurt the fans watching and the players wearing white on Saturday, it could end up not mattering all that much in the grand scheme of things.

With that in mind, here are the best, worst, and most realistic potential postseason appearances for James Franklin’s program following week 11 of the season.

Best-Case Scenario: College Football Playoff

Losing to Minnesota didn’t change the fact that Penn State’s ceiling is the College Football Playoff. In order to reach that, the team has to follow the late Al Davis’ advice: just win, baby.

The Nittany Lions winning out in the regular season would secure their spot in the Big Ten championship game. Beating No. 1 Ohio State on the road would give Penn State control of the Big Ten East. If James Franklin can escape Columbus with a victory and both teams finish the year 11-1, Penn State would win the East on the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Of course, the team would have to beat the Big Ten West champion in Indianapolis, and Minnesota is in the driver’s seat there. The Gophers can clinch at least a share of the division this weekend, and Wisconsin supplanting them on top of the division seems unlikely at best.

Penn State beating Minnesota for the Big Ten title would be reminiscent of the Georgia Bulldogs’ 2017 season. Kirby Smart’s team lost to Auburn at Jordan-Hare Stadium during the regular season, but it exacted revenge against the Tigers in the SEC championship that year. Georgia, of course, qualified for the College Football Playoff, and if history were to repeat itself in this scenario, Penn State ~should~ find its way into the big dance.

Potential opponents for the Nittany Lions would be the cream of the crop in college football, including Clemson, LSU, and Alabama, among others.

Worst-Case Scenario: Just Outside The New Year’s Six

The worst-case scenario perhaps changed the most out of any possible outcome for Penn State. Because of the defeat to Minnesota, the Nittany Lions now have a chance — albeit a small one — to finish the season with three losses.

In this hypothetical, Penn State comes out flat against No. 24 Indiana at Beaver Stadium and loses a stunner a la Michigan State the last two years. The team then goes into The Shoe and gets beaten by Ohio State before finishing the year with an almost-meaningless victory over Rutgers in its finale. That would lead to a second-consecutive 9-3 finish to the regular season and a likely trip to Central Florida.

Penn State played Kentucky in the 2019 Citrus Bowl, so a return to Orlando is out of the cards. Other potential postseason destinations include the Outback Bowl against an SEC team in Tampa or TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville against a team from either the SEC or ACC.

Potential opponents for the Nittany Lions include Georgia, Auburn, Florida, Virginia, and Wake Forest, among others.

Most Realistic Scenario: New Year’s Six Bowl

In all likelihood, Penn State will finish the 2019 regular season with a 10-2 record, which would put the team in prime position for a third New Year’s Six bid in the past four seasons.

The 10-2 record, of course, assumes that Ohio State will be the only team to topple Penn State over the course of its three remaining games. If Penn State and Ohio State both finish the year 2-1 (read: Penn State loses to Indiana, but beats the Buckeyes), Ryan Day’s squad would still win the Big Ten East. Perhaps a loss to Indiana, a win over Ohio State, and a Buckeye conference title would put Penn State in the Rose Bowl, but that’s very unlikely.

If the Nittany Lions had beaten Minnesota, the Rose Bowl would’ve been their absolute worst-case scenario. However, the Gophers control their own destiny when it comes to being the Big Ten’s second-best team this year now. Unless the team loses to Iowa, Northwestern, and/or Wisconsin, it’ll play for a Big Ten title and, at worst, lose to Ohio State in Indianapolis.

Penn State’s most likely New Year’s Six destinations are the Orange Bowl in Miami and the Cotton Bowl in the heart of Texas. The Orange Bowl’s conference tie-ins are the Big Ten, ACC, and SEC, and the Cotton Bowl bids are given to at-large and Group of Five teams.

Potential opponents for Penn State in either bowl game include Virginia, Georgia, Florida, Auburn, Cincinnati, and Memphis, among others.

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About the Author

Mikey Mandarino

Mikey is a senior majoring in journalism and Onward State's Sports Editor. He grew up in Bedminster, NJ and is way too obnoxious about all the best things his home state has to offer. Mikey loves to play golf, but he sucks at it because golf is hard. If you're dying to see more hockey/golf content on your timeline, you can follow Mikey on Twitter @mikey_mandarino. Send all hate mail, death threats, and your vote for the best chicken parm in State College to [email protected]

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