Penn State has just two games remaining, and according to ESPN’s Football Power Index, it has a 76.9% chance of getting to 10 regular season wins. While that should be enough for the Nittany Lions to get to a New Year’s Six bowl game, it could use a little help from other forces, especially if there is a preference between the Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl, and Cotton Bowl.
As we’ve discussed during the last couple of weeks, the Pac-12 is incredibly confusing as to what is best for Penn State. More than anything though, Penn State should be rooting for just one Pac-12 team to be ranked above them come the end of the season. How does that happen? Well, it’s convoluted.
The easiest path would be: USC beats UCLA, Utah beats Oregon, and then USC beats Utah in the Pac-12 Championship. That would leave USC with one-loss, while Oregon, UCLA, and Utah would all have three losses, ensuring the latter three would all be below Penn State. Of course, a 12-1 USC would muddy up Penn State’s Rose Bowl hopes, but it would pretty much guarantee a New Year’s Six game for the Nittany Lions.
The problem with other scenarios is that there really isn’t a guarantee that a two-loss Penn State would be ranked over a two-loss Pac-12 team. For example, let’s say UCLA beats USC, Utah still beats Oregon, and then in the Pac-12 championship, UCLA beats Utah. That would leave 11-2 UCLA ahead of Penn State, but would it also create a two-loss USC team ahead of Penn State too?
I think at this point, given how small Penn State’s chances are for a Rose Bowl, the “easiest path” scenario of USC winning the Pac-12 championship at 12-1 would be best for the Nittany Lions.
No. 3 Michigan (10-0) over Illinois (7-3); No. 2 Ohio State (10-0) over Maryland (6-4)
Despite the fact that the chances of the loser of Michigan/Ohio State getting into the playoff remains super small, there’s really no benefit to either Michigan or Ohio State losing a game beforehand. Yes, it would be funny and I would take a lot of joy in it, but it wouldn’t help Penn State at all.
Baylor (6-4) over No. 4 TCU (10-0)
Two-loss conference champions are what Penn State needs to get into the Rose Bowl, so if that’s the goal, the Horned Frogs dropping one regular season game and the conference championship to (probably) Kansas State is the path.
UAB (5-5) over No. 6 LSU (8-2)
The Tigers have already clinched the SEC West so they will take on Georgia in the SEC title game no matter what happens the next two weeks. While I think most expect the Bulldogs to win that championship game rather handily, the best case scenario is for LSU to have as many losses as possible going into that game. Likely? Not really. But still, it’s what Penn State fans should be rooting for.
South Carolina (6-4) over No. 5 Tennessee (9-1)
The College Football Playoff committee has made it very clear: in the scenario where they take a one-loss non-conference champion, it’s going to Tennessee over the loser of Ohio State/Michigan.
Miami (5-5) over No. 9 Clemson (9-1); Georgia Tech (4-6) over No. 13 North Carolina (9-1)
Personally, I’m still uneasy of the potential scenario that North Carolina beats Clemson in the ACC title, pushing 12-1 UNC to the Orange Bowl while Clemson looks like an enticing NY6 option at 10-2.