Penn State has now found itself in the College Football Playoff top-25 rankings 14 weeks in a row. But Tuesday night revealed the Nittany Lions’ lowest ranking yet.
Penn State is No. 20 in the committee’s second rankings. The Nittany Lions fell from No. 14 after a 42-7 loss to Michigan.
Alabama sits at No. 1, while Clemson, Notre Dame and Michigan round out the top four in that order. Georgia is on the outside looking in at No. 5, followed by Oklahoma, LSU, Washington State, West Virginia and Ohio State.
James Franklin’s team is one of five Big Ten teams in the top 25. The Wolverines and Buckeyes carry the conference torch in the top 10, Michigan State came in at No. 16, and Iowa is No. 21. Wisconsin — the Nittany Lions’ opponent this weekend — didn’t make the cut after a 31-17 win over Rutgers.
With the second edition of the rankings in, let’s take a look at where Penn State is projected to land in the postseason and which games are ones to keep an eye on this weekend.
After a blowout loss to Michigan, Penn State’s postseason picture points to one place: Florida.
Here are the Nittany Lions’ national media bowl projections:
The Athletic’s Stewart Mandel: vs. No. 15 Florida, Citrus Bowl
ESPN’s Kyle Bonagura: vs. No. 11 Kentucky, Citrus Bowl
ESPN’s Mitch Sherman: vs. No. 16 Mississippi State, Citrus Bowl
CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm: vs. No. 13 Syracuse, Pinstripe Bowl
USA Today’s Erick Smith: vs. No. 15 Florida, Citrus Bowl
Sports Illustrated’s Eric Single: vs. No. 24 Auburn, Citrus Bowl
Sporting News’ Bill Bender: vs. No. 9 West Virginia, Fiesta Bowl
Stadium’s Brett McMurphy: vs. Utah, Holiday Bowl
SB Nation’s Jason Kirk: vs. No. 15 Florida, Citrus Bowl
247 Sports’ Brad Crawford: vs. South Carolina, TaxSlayer Bowl
(Note: All projections were made before the playoff rankings were released, and all rankings reflect the committee’s new top 25.)
Start looking at flights for Orlando, Penn State fans. Six of the 10 projections pegged Penn State for the Citrus Bowl, the best non-New Year’s Six bowl for a Big Ten team.
If Penn State finishes 9-3 — and it has a 64.5 percent chance to do so, per ESPN’s Football Power Index — then the Nittany Lions would likely be looking at the Citrus Bowl. If Franklin, Trace McSorley and company fall to Wisconsin on Saturday or totally crumble by losing two of the last three, Palm’s pick of the Pinstripe Bowl is a sobering possibility.
A three-game winning streak to end the season, though, would put Penn State in fringe Fiesta Bowl or Peach Bowl territory. It’s unlikely, but if chaos broke out around them, the Nittany Lions could squeeze their way into that at-large conversation.
So, what kind of help could the New Year’s Six-minded Penn State fans get this weekend? Let’s take a look.
At its base level, the Nittany Lions want to see teams ahead of them fall. In the 10 bowl projections, though, five teams consistently show up as Fiesta Bowl or Peach Bowl candidates: LSU, West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma and NC State.
None of those squads are expected to lose this weekend; four of the five are double-digit favorites. But one could falter.
No. 11 Kentucky at Tennessee; Saturday, 3:30 p.m., SEC Network: The Wildcats are 5.5-point favorites at Tennessee with a 66.4 percent chance to win, per ESPN’s FPI. The Volunteers have lost four of their last six and barely beat Charlotte, 14-3, a few days ago. Still, Kentucky saw its College Football Playoff chances take a massive hit with a 34-17 loss to Georgia over the weekend. Could Mark Stoops’ squad suffer a hangover in Knoxville? This is really the last chance for Kentucky to lose; the Wildcats play Middle Tennessee State (89.7 percent chance to win) and Louisville (88.3 percent) to close out the regular season.
Here are a couple more games to keep an eye on:
No. 10 Ohio State at Michigan State; Saturday, noon, FOX: To make it to at least the Citrus Bowl, Penn State fans should pull for Ohio State to beat Michigan State. The Spartans sit at 6-3, own a head-to-head win over Penn State and are heavy favorites in their last two games (at Nebraska, vs. Rutgers). If Michigan State upends the Buckeyes, it likely punches its ticket to the Citrus Bowl — or better. If Nittany Lion fans can’t stomach supporting Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes, that’s understandable. But to see Penn State play in the best bowl possible, they’ll want Sparty’s upset bid to fall short.
No. 23 Fresno State at Boise State; Friday, 10:15 p.m., ESPN2: The highest-ranked Group of 5 champion is guaranteed a spot in an at-large New Year’s Six bowl. Like last year, that team looks like No. 12 Central Florida, which is still undefeated. However, this could be the year when two mid-majors earn New Year’s Six love from the committee. Fresno State (8-1) has steamrolled teams in 2018; the Bulldogs are averaging 40.4 points per game while outscoring conference opponents 184-36. They close out the season with home games against San Diego State (90.2 percent chance to win) and San Jose State (98.3 percent) — but have to face Boise State on the blue turf. The Broncos have a 45.3 percent chance to knock off their Mountain West foes. If they do, a two-loss Fresno State will be bounced from New Year’s Six consideration, removing another team from Penn State’s path.