How Can Penn State Make the Playoff?
Penn State’s heartbreaking loss at Ohio State last Saturday makes the road to the College Football Playoff much more daunting now. Ohio State, ranked sixth in the first College Football Playoff rankings, now becomes the clear favorite to win the Big Ten East division and win the conference. Without the so-called 13th data point to add to its resume, Penn State, ranked seventh, will need a lot of outside help to reach the national semifinals. However, not all hope is lost, as the Nittany Lions do still have a chance to overcome this setback and reach the playoff. Here is what would need to happen:
1. No. 7 Penn State must win out…obviously:
If the Nittany Lions somehow drop another game, then they will assuredly not make the College Football Playoff regardless of what occurs elsewhere. No two-loss team has yet to make the playoff in the three years it has existed. However, this should not be much of an issue. Their toughest remaining obstacle is at No. 24 Michigan State this weekend, but Penn State has an 89 percent chance to beat the Spartans, according to ESPN Football Power Index. Their last three games are home against Rutgers and Nebraska and then at Maryland, three of the worst teams in the Big Ten right now. An 11-1 finish seems very likely for Penn State, but that alone likely will not be enough.
2. No. 12 Washington must lose another game
After the Huskies lost to a mediocre Arizona State team a few weeks ago, many people wrote them off in large part to their pathetic non-conference schedule. However, if Washington wins out, they will still be in consideration for a top four spot. Running the table would mean they beat two currently ranked teams: No. 21 Stanford and No. 25 Washington State, and then most likely No. 17 USC in the Pac-12 championship game. Washington is the Pac-12’s last hope at a playoff spot this year and three ranked wins for the Huskies might push them over the top. Another loss to anyone, however, and they are officially out.
3. No. 3 Notre Dame must lose another game
This piece is absolutely vital to Penn State’s playoff chances. Notre Dame is playing like a top four team and has one of the best resumes in the country. They still have to play both No. 10 Miami and Stanford on the road. If Notre Dame finishes the regular season 11-1, they deserve to be in the College Football Playoff with their overall body of work, despite the fact that they would not play for a conference championship. Miami can match Notre Dame with their athletic defense, while Stanford, with a healthy Bryce Love, will also be a threat. One of these two teams must knock off the Irish.
4. The Big 12 teams must beat each other up
No. 8 TCU’s loss to No. 15 Iowa State puts Penn State in much better shape. The loser of No. 5 Oklahoma and No. 11 Oklahoma State this Saturday will suffer a second loss and be eliminated from playoff contention. Plus, the Big 12 has added a conference championship game this season, which will include the two top teams from the conference since the Big 12 teams are not divided into divisions. That means that every Big 12 team could have at least two losses at the end of the regular season and therefore fail to send a team to the playoff. There is also currently a four-way tie for first place in the conference between Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU and Iowa State, with Texas and West Virginia right behind them.
5. No. 14 Auburn must beat either No. 1 Georgia or No. 2 Alabama
It has been an up and down season for the Auburn Tigers, but they have one of the most underrated defenses in the country and an explosive offense that is starting to play at the level of their preseason expectations. Beating either of those two teams will be no easy task, but Auburn is the most difficult opponent left on each of their schedules and Auburn gets them both at home. If Auburn does win one of those two games, the loser of must then lose again in the SEC championship. It is safe to say that Alabama and Georgia will matchup for the SEC championship game in Atlanta. Whichever of them loses to Auburn must then suffer their second loss in the SEC title, which would eliminate them from the playoff and free up a spot for Penn State.
6. No. 4 Clemson must lose to No. 20 NC State
Clemson with a healthy Kelly Bryant at quarterback looks as good as any team in the country. However, he is still recovering from both an ankle sprain and a concussion, so the best time for Clemson to drop another game would be this weekend against the most difficult team remaining on their schedule. NC State should have beaten Clemson on the road last season and this year they will get a shot at redemption at home. The Wolfpack are already out of playoff contention with their loss to Notre Dame, but an upset win over Clemson would eliminate the Tigers too.
Penn State undoubtedly needs some help to assert themselves back into the playoff conversation. It is unlikely that all of these scenarios will occur, all of them may not even have to come to fruition. However, the more scenarios listed above that play out the better.
Will Desautelle is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Junior / Broadcast Journalism and Political Science