In their first-ever appearance in the College Football Playoff Rankings, PSU comes in at number 12:
This is significantly higher than their number 20 and number 23 rankings in the AP and Coaches Polls, respectively. Before the poll was released, the Nittany Lions were projected to be ranked as high as 9th (by CBS’s Jerry Palm) but general consensus was right around #15, like the mothership’s Jason Kirk predicted. Split the difference, and you weren’t too far off.
Penn State doesn’t control its own destiny in terms of the playoffs; even if James Franklin’s squad wins out, it needs Michigan to lose twice before the end of the regular season in order to go to the Big Ten Championship game. The only way that the Nittany Lions would even have a slight shot at the playoffs would be as the Big Ten Champion; with the Big 12 Champ having at least one loss (if not more) under a less challenging schedule, it would be difficult to keep a two-loss champion out.
Those odds, of course, are slim—but remember, Ohio State started out 16th in the first ever college football playoff rankings before winning it all in 2014.