A win over Wisconsin and losses suffered elsewhere Saturday sent Penn State soaring in the latest installment of College Football Playoff rankings. The Nittany Lions, now 7-3 in 2018, jumped from 20th to 14th when an updated postseason pecking order was announced Tuesday night.
Penn State has appeared in all playoff rankings since 2016, when it landed on the doorstep of tournament inclusion. This the 15th consecutive edition that includes the Nittany Lions.
A path appears to be in place for Penn State to finish its regular season on an upward trend. After suffering three losses in five games, the Nittany Lions put together a well-rounded performance last Saturday against Wisconsin. PSU concludes Big Ten action considered a heavy favorite vs. Rutgers and Maryland.
Penn State outscored the Badgers, 22-3, after surrendering an early 71-yard touchdown run to Jonathan Taylor, securing a 22-10 victory. Running back Miles Sanders (159 rushing yards and one touchdown) led the way on offense, while an efficient afternoon from Trace McSorley put the senior in position to tie a Penn State record for most victories for a starting quarterback (29).
McSorley, playing through an apparent right knee injury, completed 19 of 25 pass attempts for 160 yards and one touchdown, which he tossed to fellow senior DeAndre Thompkins.
“He’s a warrior,” Penn State coach James Franklin said after the game. “He really is in every sense of the word. He’s productive. He’s positive. He’s a leader. He’s determined.”
Backup quarterback Tommy Stevens continued to see action in a variety of roles but the Nittany Lions remain committed to McSorley as he manages a medial issue that remains undisclosed.
“There’s tremendous confidence on our team in Tommy,” Franklin said Tuesday. “But I also think you guys also understand that Trace McSorley has kind of earned the right to tell us what he thinks, when he thinks he can go. It’s a balance of what the doctors are telling us, the trainers are telling us, and you look at Trace McSorley’s eyes, we’ve been in that situation for a long time with Trace. If he feels like he can go and you think it’s the right thing from a health and team perspective, you’re going to give him the benefit of the doubt.”
The offensive output also featured career firsts for freshman receivers Jahan Dotson (first start) and Justin Shorter (first catch). Fellow first-year player Jake Pinegar converted three of five field goal attempts, including two from beyond 40 yards.
The Nittany Lions were led by five sacks from the defensive front, including a pair of both Shareef Miller and Robert Windsor. Windsor was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week on Monday, and Penn State forced four turnovers.
“It was amazing,” he said. “(Wisconsin) being known for their offensive linemen and us doing what we did to them. There is no better feeling.”
Penn State plays at Rutgers this Saturday afternoon, then returns home for its regular season finale Nov. 24 vs. Maryland. The Nittany Lions are under serious consideration for several marquee bowl games.
In terms of the playoff race, Alabama continues to lead the pack. The top-ranked Crimson Tide are followed (in order) by Clemson, Notre Dame, Michigan, Georgia and Oklahoma. The top four teams in final playoff rankings — revealed Dec. 2 — will compete for a national championship.