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Rooting Interests: Hope Springs Anew

What needs to happen around Penn State to back into a Big Ten title or College Football Playoff appearance?

The S-Zone can be seen in the Penn State student section during the first half of a NCAA football game against Indiana at Beaver Stadium Saturday, Oct. 28, 2023 Dan Rainville / USA TODAY NETWORK

The first College Football playoff rankings of the season were just released this week, and Penn State sits at No. 11 in the country. In order to reach the ever elusive goal of a playoff appearance, Penn State needs some extra help from within the Big Ten and outside. And, at 11th, they’re right at the cut line for a New Year’s Six berth, to boot.

As with every year, now that we have College Football Playoff rankings, we’ll outline what needs to happen every week for Penn State to attain its best possible goal for the season. Here goes!

We’ll list these in order of likelihood to happen, so the first scenario has the best odds of happening, and so on. And, of course, all of these assume Penn State’s best possible regular season record, which as of today is 11-1.

In the Big Ten

As a reminder, in a 3-way tie scenario, the tiebreaker to rule them all is record against crossover opponents. Right now, that looks as such:

Michigan: Purdue, Minnesota, Nebraska (7-8)
Ohio State: Purdue, Minnesota, Wisconsin (7-8)
Penn State: Iowa, Northwestern, Illinois (6-9)

Illinois over Minnesota - This one is pretty simple. Giving Penn State’s opponents a win and Ohio State and Michigan’s a loss. Illinois has shown signs of life, and Minnesota the propensity to do dumb things, so this one isn’t out of the question.

Indiana over Wisconsin - Wisconsin may have to play without Braelon Allen, after already losing Chez Mellusi for the season and Tanner Mordecai indefinitely. This would both keep Indiana’s bowl hopes alive, while helping Penn State along the way.

Michigan State over Nebraska - The Matt Rhule redeems Nebraska story can wait another week. Like the game above, any time a team from the East beats any of Nebraska, Wisconsin, Purdue, or Minnesota, it’s great for Penn State. Now, leaving that task up to Michigan State is another story, but this would be ideal in the long run.

Rutgers over Ohio State - This one is basically in “miracle” category, but any loss Ohio State takes from here on out can help Penn State not even need a tiebreaker in the event of an 11-1 finish. What better time for Rutgers to get its first win against Ohio State than now?

The Rest of College Football

USC over Washington - Ensuring everyone in the Pac-12 has at least one loss going into the title game does two things:

  1. No situation where both the conference champion and championship game loser have one loss apiece (e.g.: Undefeated Washington loses to 1-loss Oregon), which eliminates the possibility of two Pac-12 teams in the playoff.
  2. Knocks Washington down the pecking order, as they’d be taking a loss to a team that likely has more losses coming.

Kansas State over Texas - Same as above, but better. No team in the Big 12 is undefeated, so this guarantees that the Big 12 championship loser has no fewer than two losses. And, as a bonus, this nearly guarantees that, if anyone other than Oklahoma wins the Big 12, no conference winner will have fewer than two losses either!

Oklahoma State over Oklahoma - Speaking of guarantees, this is is the same exact scenario as above, but with Oklahoma instead of Texas. Either one of these has a good shot at making the playoff as a one-loss champion, but they’re all but disqualified if they lose again before the championship game.

Texas A&M over Ole Miss - Continuing along the lines of “give two losses to as many teams as possible,” You need A&M to beat Ole Miss, the team that sits right before Penn State in the College Football Playoff rankings. A&M is already 5-3, so they’re not making a playoff appearance. Lowering the odds for the rest of the teams is the goal.

LSU over Alabama - Although we’ve forgotten about the Tide, they sit at 7-1, 5-0 in the SEC. A loss would give them two on the season, muddle the SEC West standings, and, you guessed it, decreases the number of teams that could sneak into the playoff by virtue of only having one loss.

Missouri over Georgia - We’ve reached “miracle” territory here, but, if Missouri can pull it off, the SEC would join the Pac-12 in the “no undefeated teams” category, which would guarantee the conference championship loser would have at least two losses. That, and a Georgia team with not much of a resume becomes a harder sell as an at large were they to miss the SEC title game altogether.

Pitt over Florida State - This is only here because of Pitt’s propensity to pull one out of a hat seemingly every year. Yes, they already beat Louisville, but the Cardinal were not a top 5 team (and realistically speaking, aren’t as good as advertised). Were the Panthers to pull it off, it would be a massive blow for a team whose wins are starting to lose some luster.