Penn State, approaching an official announcement of its bowl destination, is featured in the final edition of 2018 College Football Playoff rankings. The Nittany Lions remain 12th in the latest reveal, announced Sunday afternoon, after an idle weekend.
The top four teams, qualifying for playoff action, are (in order) Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame and Oklahoma. SEC runner-up Georgia and Big Ten champion Ohio State were left on the doorstep of inclusion, landing at No. 5 and No. 6, respectively.
The Big Ten champ has now missed the playoff three straight years. Penn State fell short in 2016, while the Buckeyes have been left out in back-to-back seasons. Michigan State advanced to the playoff following its 2015 conference title, then suffered a 38-0 loss to Alabama in the semifinal round.
This is the third consecutive year in which Penn State places among the top dozen squads in final playoff rankings. The Nittany Lions settled for a No. 5 finish in 2016, and entered a 2017 Fiesta Bowl matchup with Washington considered the nation’s No. 9 team.
Penn State picked up 11 wins in each of the last two seasons. A victory in the yet-to-be-revealed bowl game (speculation points toward a Citrus Bowl appearance, likely vs. Kentucky) would push that total to 10 in 2018, marking the first time since 1982 that the Nittany Lions conclude three straight campaigns with a double-digit wins total.
“When you talk about the Big Ten era, this has been one of the best three-year stretches in program history,” Penn State coach James Franklin said Saturday. “We have a chance to do some really special things by winning the bowl game.”
Penn State wrapped up the regular season with a 9-3 record (6-3 vs. Big Ten opponents), capping off its campaign with a three-game win streak. The Nittany Lions allowed only 20 points during that span, picking up victories over Maryland, Rutgers and Wisconsin.
“It’s great going into the bowl game on a high note, there’s no doubt about it, but it’s going to be work,” Franklin said. “We’re going to play a really good opponent and we’re going to have to find another way to get a W. I don’t think there is any doubt, going into the bowl game off a win, and a convincing win at that, is helpful.”
Maryland visited Happy Valley last weekend, and the Nittany Lions handled business on home turf. Led by All-Big Ten selections Trace McSorley (294 total yards and three touchdowns) and Yetur Gross-Matos (3.5 tackles for loss), Penn State surged to a 38-3 win.
Penn State previously dropped to 20th in playoff rankings — it’s lowest standing since October 2016 — after a Nov. 3 loss at Michigan. It was the program’s third loss in a five-game span, but positive momentum was gained down the stretch. Penn State has now appeared in 18 straight editions of playoff rankings.