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Examining Penn State’s Path To The College Football Playoff

Eight weeks into its season, No. 13 Penn State football is 6-1 and entering its biggest game of the year against No. 2 Ohio State this Saturday at Beaver Stadium with its College Football Playoff chances still alive.

Not many people expected the Nittany Lions to be a playoff contender this year or even have its playoff hopes alive entering their matchup with the Buckeyes. Most people then thought that Penn State’s playoff hopes were dead following its crushing 41-17 loss to Michigan in Ann Arbor last week. This isn’t the case, and history tells us that. So, let’s take a look at how Penn State can make it to the College Football Playoff.

As of right now, ESPN’s College Football Power Index gives the Nittany Lions a 7.9% chance of winning out and a 3.6% chance to make the playoff. The Nittany Lions have the best chance of making the playoff if it could win the Big Ten Championship since we can probably assume the SEC will have two teams and Clemson will get in there, too.

Obviously, the first thing that needs to happen is Penn State winning out. That starts with taking down No. 2 Ohio State at home. Now, if you’re the fan that says, “Oh no, we aren’t beating the Buckeyes,” you shouldn’t be too sure of that, my friend.

Back in 2016, Penn State was dominated 49-10 in Ann Arbor, a loss that almost cost James Franklin his job. Four weeks later, when nobody had predicted it, Penn State prevailed 24-21 in Beaver Stadium against No. 2 Ohio State. Sound familiar?

If the Nittany Lions successfully take down the Buckeyes, Penn State still won’t have an easy walk into an undefeated run to end its season, as it will still travel to Bloomington, Indiana, to take on the Hoosiers in Memorial Stadium. In its last few visits, the team hasn’t had an easy time coming out with a victory. The Hoosiers played Penn State close in 2016 and 2018 in their home stadium and almost ruined Penn State’s Big Ten Championship season in 2016. Indiana then beat Penn State in the first game of the 2020 season.

So, if Penn State takes down the Hoosiers, it’ll have a relatively easy route to a one-loss season. Next, Michigan would need to lose twice before the end of the season. This also happened in the 2016 season, when it was in the driver’s seat in the Big Ten East before losing to Iowa and Ohio State.

This season, the Wolverines finish their season with matchups against Michigan State, Nebraska, Rutgers, No. 17 Illinois, and No. 2 Ohio State. Before its tossup game with Ohio State, Michigan would need to lose one of its next four. Its game against Illinois is in Ann Arbor, which doesn’t bode well for the Nittany Lions. College football is crazy, though, and we could see teams like Nebraska or Michigan State be pesky and play the Wolverines close or even steal a game.

If Penn State beats Ohio State and Michigan doesn’t lose a game before facing Ohio State, Penn Staters would be forced to cheer for the Wolverines to win the Big Ten Championship, as the only hope left would be Clemson potentially losing a game in its weak ACC conference schedule. Alternatively, Tennessee could lose twice before the SEC Championship game, and Georgia could defeat Alabama to win the SEC, leaving the Vols and Crimson Tide with two losses each. The potential one-loss Penn State could have a leg up on those potential two-loss teams.

Still, the easiest path to the playoff is for Penn State to win the Big Ten Championship, which will take Michigan losing at least once before facing Ohio State at the end of November. It may seem unlikely, but you never know what could happen in college football.

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About the Author

Frankie Marzano

Frankie is a senior accounting and economics major from Long Island, NY. You can probably recognize him as the typical Italian-American with slicked back black hair. He is an avid fan of the New York Rangers and Mets, along with every Penn State Athletics team. Follow him on Twitter @frankiemarzano for obnoxious amounts of Rangers and Penn State content or email him at [email protected]

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