Penn State was idle this weekend after wrapping up its regular season last Saturday against Maryland. The Nittany Lions, 9-3 overall and 6-3 against Big Ten opponents, were focused on recruiting efforts last week rather than preparation for a conference championship.
Those title games provided plenty to digest for the College Football Playoff committee, which announces its final choices Sunday afternoon, and caused some substantial shakeup in the Associated Press Poll. The impact is felt slightly by Penn State, which climbs from 14th to 13th in the latest Top 25.
The AP Poll was revealed late-morning Saturday, with the Nittany Lions sandwiched between No. 12 Washington State and No. 14 Texas. The list is lead by (in order) by Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Ohio State and Georgia.
Ohio State won the Big Ten Championship Game on Saturday night, 45-24, over Northwestern in Indianapolis. There is widespread debate about the Buckeyes’ candidacy for playoff inclusion, with the consensus pointing toward Big 12 title winner Oklahoma securing the final spot in a tournament also expected to include unbeatens Alabama, Clemson and Notre Dame.
Sitting between Ohio State and Penn State, Michigan remains eighth in the AP Top 25. These three Big Ten East representatives are the only conference teams featured.
Penn State pounded Maryland, 38-3, in its Nov. 24 regular season finale at Beaver Stadium. Led offensively by fifth-year senior quarterback Trace McSorley (294 total yards and three touchdowns on Senior Day), the Nittany Lions scored 31 unanswered points en route to a third consecutive victory.
“I do not know if you could have written a better script for how this last game would have went for this senior class,”Penn State coach James Franklin said afterward.
The Penn State defense was fantastic again, and allowed only 20 points in the last three contests. The Nittany Lions totaled 15 tackles for loss and five sacks vs. Maryland, as linemen Yetur Gross-Matos (3.5 tackles for loss) and Kevin Givens (two sacks) led the push up front.
Gross-Matos, a sophomore defensive end, earned First-Team All-Big Ten honors days later when the conference revealed individual accolades. McSorley (second-team), senior cornerback Amani Oruwariye (first-team), junior running back Miles Sanders (second-team), redshirt junior defensive end Shareef Miller (third-team), offensive tackle Ryan Bates (third-team) and offensive guard Connor McGovern (third-team) also landed on all-conference teams.
Penn State must wait a bit longer to learn its postseason fate, but a marquee bowl matchup is probable. The Nittany Lions ended each of the last two seasons in New Year’s Six bowls (Rose Bowl vs. USC in 2016; Fiesta Bowl vs. Washington in 2017), though a consolation prize such as the Citrus Bowl seems more likely this winter.
“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,” . “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.”
If Penn State can climb back into the top 10 at season’s end, it would be the first three-year stretch of such a result for the program since 1980-82.
The Nittany Lions landed at No. 8 in the final AP Top 25 last season following a Fiesta Bowl win over Washington. Penn State finished seventh in 2016 after earning a Big Ten title. That ended a six-year streak of Penn State ending seasons outside the AP Top 25.