Penn State extended its streak of appearances in College Football Playoff rankings to 13 editions Tuesday evening, when the first postseason pecking order of 2018 was revealed. The Nittany Lions, in the mix for six-week stretches that finished off each of the last two seasons, land at No. 14 in initial 2018 rankings.
Penn State found itself on the doorstep of playoff inclusion in 2016, finishing fifth in rankings following a Big Ten Championship Game victory. Last season, the Nittany Lions debuted at No. 7 before suffering a loss at Michigan State, and ultimately finished ninth en route to a Fiesta Bowl matchup vs. Washington.
Established in 2014, playoff rankings were developed in order to identify the four teams most worthy of competing in a postseason tournament that consists of two semifinal matchups and the national championship game. Alabama has won two titles (2015, 2017) within this structure, while Clemson (2016) and Ohio State (2014) also earned championships.
Alabama again holds the top spot in playoff rankings, followed by No. 2 Clemson. Those teams have met in each of the last three playoffs.
Beyond the pair of perennial contenders you’ll find, in order, LSU, Notre Dame, Michigan and Georgia.
Upon Ohio State’s stunning Oct. 20 loss at Purdue, Michigan emerged as the most likely program to represent the Big Ten Conference in playoff action. The Wolverines haven’t suffered a loss since the season opener — a 24-17 defeat at Notre Dame — and welcome Penn State to campus this weekend.
The Nittany Lions play Michigan in “The Big House” at 3:45 p.m. ET Saturday. This marquee conference showdown sets the stage for either team to make a statement.
Penn State hasn’t beaten a ranked opponent on the road since November 2013 (at Wisconsin). That was Bill O’Brien’s final game as Nittany Lions coach.
A win for Michigan would further strengthen its case for playoff consideration, though a traditional regular-season finale vs. Ohio State (No. 10 in playoff rankings) still looms large. Penn State aims for a third consecutive win — its second against a ranked opponent — following two narrow Big Ten losses.
The Nittany Lions cruised past Michigan last October at Beaver Stadium, scoring 28 unanswered points to deliver an emphatic 42-13 victory. Penn State’s last visit (September 2016) to Ann Arbor resulted in a 49-10 loss, which remains the most recent game in which the Nittany Lions didn’t carry a fourth-quarter lead.
Penn State veterans, such as safety Nick Scott, have adopted a forward-looking approach this week.
“I’d say two years ago, I shook that feeling off the next week we were getting ready for the next opponent,” Scott said. “That’s the code that I live by personally. So yeah, I don’t have any vengeance per se. I’m just worried about this Michigan team this year, this Penn State team this year, and preparing ourselves to the best of our ability to go out there and compete and go 1-0 this week.”