Schedule strength boosts Penn State to No. 4 in CFP rankings
Penn State opened the season at No. 4 in the first College Football Playoff rankings, its highest position in the poll’s history. Previously, Penn State’s highest ranking was fifth in the final Selection Day rankings of 2016.
The Lions (8-0) opened ahead of defending national champ Clemson, which landed in fifth. Penn State’s previous best start was at No. 7 in 2017.
The Lions visit Minnesota on Saturday. Both teams are 8-0, and Minnesota is 17th and ranked for the first time since 2014.
Rob Mullens, the CFP’s selection committee chair, said Penn State climbed above Clemson based on its strength of schedule. According to ESPN, Penn State has the No. 2 strength-of-record metric in the country.
Penn State’s first eight opponents this season have a combined winning percentage of .613, while Clemson’s are at .551.
“We had a lengthy discussion about Penn State and Clemson, two really, really good teams, both strong defensively,” Mullens said. “In the end, what it came down to — and again, much debate — Penn State has marquee wins against 14th-ranked Michigan and a road win at 18th-ranked Iowa. In addition, they have a nonconference win over Pitt, which is a pretty good win at this point.”
Alabama, ranked third, is above Penn State despite a lower strength-of-schedule ranking. Alabama’s opponents have a combined winning percentage of .467.
“At the end of the day, when the committee watched Alabama, what they saw is a team that’s being dominant against that schedule, and that was the difference between Alabama and Penn State,” Mullens said.
Before Tuesday’s release, Penn State coach James Franklin called the rankings meaningless, and he has a point. No. 2 LSU plays No. 3 Alabama on Saturday, and Penn State has an upcoming visit to No. 1 Ohio State on Nov. 23.
“Preseason rankings mean nothing,” Franklin said. “Middle-of-the-season rankings mean nothing. At the end of the season, people will count up where we’re at and where they have us and tell us where we’re going to go, and we’ll be excited about going there.”