What started as a pipe dream is now, well, possible. And like all blue-bloods should when they fear their hopes are too high, let us turn to some third party projections.
There have been a lot of big wins in the last six or seven years, but those wins were mostly remarkable because of how poorly the team would play either right before or right after said victory. It's probably safe to say that this recent win at Michigan State did more for the program's image than any in the last 8, maybe 14 years. To twist a Paterno quote into a paraphrase: you never fly higher than after your biggest win. With a tough stretch of games ahead, the enthusiasm is bound to roll up and, yes, possibly down.
But let's enjoy it while it lasts. ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi, whom Wikipedia claims has picked 33 of the last 34 at large teams since 1998, can be counted as a believer:
Lunardi lists them fourth on his list of "last four in", probably because they are literally the last team he included.
Bracketology 101 puts out a weekly projection as well, their thoughts?
Davidson, Penn State, Kentucky, Georgetown
Nine?! Call him a believer! Especially considering he doesn't qualify the pick by including the Nittany Lions on his "last four in" list.
I sent them a quick email to make sure I was understanding their method, and Chris responding by saying "based on what they've done plus what they have left, we think that Penn State will make the tournament." So it's both backward and forward looking. He added that he "like[s] their chances more than ever of getting to 10 wins in conference, which will get them a bid."
So what exactly does lie ahead? Penn State was able jump from an RPI in the 70's last week and land a spot at #66. It's a modest lift, but considering the dead weight that is their OOC schedule, still an impressive one. They are simply weighed down too much by some of those teams (it is projected in the link below that nine PSU opponents will finish below the 200 line) to make any significant progress with one victory.
RUTS points us to our projected RPI:
They expect losses (based on Sagarin) to Michigan (-3.1), Purdue (-11.6), Illinois (-9.2 and -1.9), Ohio State (-6.2) and Iowa (-2.0). They also project Minnesota to be a very close win.
There are other projections, of course, most notably Pomeroy. He has Penn State in the #57 spot based on past performance, but projects similar results: a 3-6 finish.
If these things pan out, Penn State would finish the regular season 20-11, with perhaps an RPI in the 70's. This means, of course, that a big time performance in the Big Ten Tournament is a must. It is probably too far off to predict seedings and matchups, there are quite a few teams bunched in the top half of the standings right now, but for the record: the computers still think Battle & Co. have something to prove. I'm sure they would like hearing that, though.