Penn State is trending in the right direction again when it comes to College Football Playoff rankings. The Nittany Lions won a second straight game last Saturday and moved from 14th to 12th in the latest CFP rankings released Tuesday night.
Last week, Penn State elevated from 20th after its 22-10 win over Wisconsin. The Nittany Lions have now appeared in 16 straight editions of CFP rankings, dating back to October 2016.
The latest rankings are led by (in order) Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, Michigan, Georgia and Oklahoma. The top four teams in final rankings (revealed Dec. 2) qualify for postseason tournament action to determine a national champion.
Penn State defeated Rutgers, 20-7, on the road in its most recent matchup. Led by a strong defensive effort (11 tackles for loss and three forced turnovers), the Nittany Lions overcame a frustrating performance on offense and improved to 8-3 (5-3 in Big Ten) with one regular-season game remaining.
Maryland, fresh off its near-upset against Ohio State, comes to town with a 5-6 record and seeking bowl eligibility. Penn State, carrying a three-game win streak vs. the Terrapins, will honor senior players before their final contest in Beaver Stadium.
It figures to be an emotional day, especially for members of the 2014 recruiting class who signed with Penn State only weeks after James Franklin was hired. Since consecutive 7-6 seasons, this group has been a factor in 30 wins since the start of 2016, including a run to the Big Ten championship that year.
“You look at what they have been able to accomplish at Penn State,” Franklin said Tuesday. “They came to Penn State at a very tough time, we all did, and really battled and worked like crazy to work through it. You look at their record, the senior class, I think all things considered, maybe one of the most impressive senior classes in school history.”
Fifth-year seniors such as quarterback Trace McSorley, cornerback Amani Oruwariye, safety Nick Scott and receiver DeAndre Thompkins are primed to participate in their final Nittany Lions game on home turf. The ninth conference clash of 2018 also presents an opportunity for first-year contributors to close out this regular season on a strong note.
Tight end Pat Freiermuth (six touchdowns in eight Big Ten games), linebacker Micah Parsons (team-high 65 tackles) and receiver Jahan Dotson (first two careers starts in the last two weeks) are among true freshmen who figure to play important roles against Maryland.
A Penn State victory would thrust the team into serious consideration for a marquee bowl matchup at 9-3. The Citrus Bowl (Orlando) and Peach Bowl (Atlanta) have been mentioned among potential destinations, and another opportunity to compete against a ranked opponent appears probable.
“It’s all about finishing the season the best way we can,” running back Miles Sanders said Tuesday. “A W this week would definitely solidify that and give us a chance to go to a really good bowl game and play a really good opponent. Getting a W in the bowl game, (we’d) just have that momentum and confidence going into next season.”