Penn State doesn’t have to give up on playoff despite loss to Minnesota |
Penn State

Penn State doesn’t have to give up on playoff despite loss to Minnesota

Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford still could lead his team to the College Football Playoff if all the chips fall into place.

After his team’s 31-26 loss to Minnesota on Saturday, Penn State coach James Franklin noted “all of our goals are still out there ahead of us.” That includes the team’s first appearance in the College Football Playoff.

As they return home Saturday to face Indiana — their first home game in four weeks — the Lions still have a playoff bid in sight. The road is more difficult but also more clear.

Penn State must finish 4-0, including a road victory at Ohio State and a win in the Big Ten championship game, to have any playoff argument. But it would be a compelling one.

So here’s how Penn State’s bowl picture is beginning to emerge:

• Had it won Saturday and finished the regular season 11-1 with a loss to Ohio State, Penn State could have made a good-loss playoff case — particularly if it played the Buckeyes close in Columbus. Last week, ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit drew that scenario.

“If Penn State wins every game, including not only what’s already on their resume but a win potentially Saturday against Minnesota, and then they lose a hard-fought game in Columbus, then I think that’s the potential for the committee then to put (Penn State in) what they call a cluster,” Herbstreit said on a conference call. “And the cluster would be the one-loss PAC 12, the one-loss Oklahoma, the one loss LSU (or Alabama) and the one-loss Penn State. And then they start trying to separate those four teams to see who could be that fourth team.”

Now, Penn State clearly has to win the Big Ten title, though that would weigh heavily in its favor. As ESPN’s Heather Dinich reported, conference champs remain the CFP committee’s favorites: 17 of the last 20 teams selected have won titles. The outliers are teams like Ohio State in 2016 and Notre Dame in ‘18.

If Penn State runs the table, it will have beaten Ohio State, Michigan, Iowa and the Big Ten West champ — possibly even Minnesota in a rematch. That’s a resume the CFP committee would have a hard time overlooking.

• Two-loss Penn State is a contender for a New Year’s Six bowl game, though the options are limited this season. The loss to Minnesota likely removed Penn State from Rose Bowl consideration, unless it wins the Big Ten title but is not selected for the playoff. If Minnesota is ranked higher than Penn State at season’s end, it would get the Rose Bowl bid, assuming Ohio State makes the playoff.

The remaining New Year’s Six schedule is tighter because fewer at-large slots are available. The Fiesta and Peach bowls, games without conference contracts, are hosting playoff semifinals. The Rose Bowl (Big Ten and Pac-12) and Sugar Bowls (SEC and Big 12) will fill their slots with teams from their contract conferences.

That leaves the Cotton and Orange bowls. The ACC will fill one Orange Bowl slot, and the Group of 5 qualifier will fill a Cotton Bowl slot. Thus, two NY6 bowl bids are left for the two next-highest ranked teams in the final CFP rankings.

Will two-loss Penn State rank highly enough to earn one of those bids? There will be plenty of competition, notably from the SEC (potentially LSU, Alabama, Georgia and Florida).

Penn State got into the Fiesta Bowl as a two-loss team in 2017. This year, it might be left out.•

• If that happens, a 10-2 Penn State team likely would play in the Jan. 1 Outback Bowl in Tampa.

The Lions played in the Citrus Bowl last season, precluding it from a return trip unless the parameters are changed. According to the Big Ten’s selection process, its contract bowls (including the Citrus and Outback) are to feature at least five different teams over the current six-year period.

Since Penn State played in the 2019 Citrus Bowl and hasn’t been to the Outback Bowl since 2011, that shuffle likely would occur.

A mitigating factor to consider: Minnesota played in the 2014 Citrus Bowl, which would test its eligibility as well. In that case, Notre Dame could qualify at 10-2.

Categories: Sports | Penn State
TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.