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Is Penn State Football Playing For No. 3 In The Rose Bowl?

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Now that the first round of the College Football Playoffs are complete, the table is set for PSU to move up with a win.

NCAA Football: Oregon State at UCLA Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

No. 1 Alabama took care of business versus Washington on Saturday, winning easily, 24-7. The game was competitive for most of the first half but the Crimson Tide began to pull away with a pick-six just before half time.

No. 2 Clemson shocked Ohio State with a dominating 31-0 beat down. The Buckeyes were finally exposed for the incomplete team that it was this year. It is certain that OSU had one of the best defenses in the country—that is what kept the team near the top of the standings for most of the season. On the other side of the ball there remains a great deal of questions moving forward. The Buckeyes had trouble for much of the year on the offensive line, at quarterback, and in the receiving group.

Penn State just missed out on the College Football Playoffs, a decision that will now be questioned in light of the poor showing that the two losing teams had in the first round of the playoffs. Washington showed that they were up to the challenge, hanging with the top team for a while, displaying how their team would have to play in order to pull off the upset. And still it appears that Penn State, with its offensive wizardry, may have put up more of a fight than the Huskies.

Clemson had no problem at all shutting down the Buckeye offense. The Tigers played such a great overall game that it is hard to say that it would not have done that to another team. However, with Deshaun Watson throwing his traditional two interceptions, and figuring that the Lions would have had a much easier time scoring, that game may have been more interesting had PSU been involved.

The real question that will be asked is not whether the Lions would have performed better against the winning teams, but rather whether PSU is a better team than Washington and Ohio State.

Washington was seen as the weakest team of the four in the College Football Playoffs by many observers. With the results on Saturday, that doesn’t appear to be the case. It’s pure speculation as to whether the Lions are a better team than Washington. Without the teams facing off on the field, the debate would never be definitive.

With Ohio State laying a big, pizza-on-a-golf-cart-sized egg on Saturday, it makes it look like the Buckeyes did not belong in the four-team playoff. Whether or not the Lions were a better team than Ohio State now looks obvious. There need be no speculation as to which team would win on the field, as Penn State defeated OSU earlier this year.

So that leaves the committee to answer the question: Should PSU and OSU’s head-to-head game mattered more to them than it apparently did? Does one additional loss in the standings dictate that a team should be overlooked in spite of having the No. 5 position with a win over one of the playoff teams? Those debates will be fodder for sports talk-shows for the next nine months.

With the Rose Bowl yet to be played, it appears that there is a rather large carrot at the end of the stick, just a yard or so out in front of the Penn State team. It has been 11 years since the Lions have finished in the top-3, that coming after a brilliant 11-1 season in 2005. We have to go all the way back to the historic 1994 season, which the team finished No. 2, for the next top-3 finish.

From 1981-1993 Penn State finished in the top-3 five times. In this period of time it became expected that the Lions finish so well, almost to the point where the fans got used to it happening. Since then, the two seasons that stand out for Lion fans are the 1994 and 2005 squads, the two seasons in the top-3.

The Rose Bowl on Monday will give the team another shot at a podium finish. While it could be seen as disappointing that the team was snubbed from a chance at the playoffs, time will remember this season in a positive light. Those of us watching will remember how unexpected this journey for the team was as it was unfolding. With a win, the team will most certainly pull off the feat. No. 6 Michigan lost its bowl game. No. 7 Oklahoma has a chance to make a statement versus Auburn in the Sugar Bowl, but an accompanying win by PSU should keep the team ahead of the Sooners. The voters can’t possibly still be unconvinced that PSU, with a win, should be ranked higher than OSU. Or could they?

No matter how the Rose Bowl game is decided, this has been a memorable season for the Lions and their fans. Sometimes when you are too close to something, you can’t see the big picture. We are about to watch what could be one of the best finishes for the Penn State team since 1994.