If Penn State wants to make a point to the College Football Playoff committee, from here on out, it’s going to take points.
Lots and lots and lots — and lots — of points.
The Nittany Lions’ 35-6 thumping of Rutgers on Saturday was a start, impressive enough for the committee to move Penn State up to No. 10 in the third CFP rankings released Tuesday night.
The Nittany Lions (8-2, 5-2 Big Ten) were No. 14 in the CFP rankings last week after back-to-back narrow road losses to Ohio State and Michigan State.
While the buzz nationally is that perhaps as many as two 2-loss teams could crack the CFP’s final four — no 2-loss team has made the bracket before — Penn State has an uphill climb to make a serious impression with the committee the rest of the way.
For one thing, coach James Franklin’s crew is out of showcase games, as the Nittany Lions close the season with 4-6 Nebraska and 4-6 Maryland, two sides that aren’t going to move the needle nationally, even if you hang half a hundred on them both.
To get back on the radar, Penn State just might have to.
For another, the 2016 Big Ten champions probably won’t get a shot to defend their crown in Indianapolis after falling to the Buckeyes and Spartans. The first league tiebreaker is head-to-head results, and Penn State is 1-2 vs. the Buckeyes, Spartans and Michigan Wolverines.
On the plus side, the CFP is more bullish on the Nittany Lions than The Associated Press Top 25 poll, which saw Penn State eke up from No. 16 to No. 13 on Sunday. The Nittany Lions landed at No. 11 in the most recent coaches poll, up from 13 the week before.
If there’s anything in the Nittany Lions’ corner toward sticking in the CFP top 10, it’s advanced metrics, which put more weight on absolute maulings of ranked Northwestern and Michigan squads earlier in the season and the fact that Penn State’s only two setbacks were close ones that also came against ranked competition.
Statnik Jeff Sagarin’s most recent power rankings slotted Penn State at No. 3 nationally, behind only Alabama and Clemson, and higher than Ohio State (No. 5) and Wisconsin (No. 7). The Nittany Lions’ Sagarin strength of schedule ranked 27th, just behind Ohio State (26) and well ahead of Wisconsin (No. 63). The Nittany Lions are 3-2 vs. the Sagarin top 30 — Bama is 2-0; Clemson, 5-0.
Regardless, as a worst-case scenario, a 10-2 Penn State team figures to be highly appealing to New Year’s Six bowls such as the Peach, Orange, Fiesta or Cotton, depending on how the other Power 5 results shake out.
The Nittany Lions haven’t played in an Orange Bowl since 2006; a Fiesta Bowl since 1997; or a Cotton Bowl since 1975 — although Penn State did appear in the TicketCity Bowl played at the old Cotton Bowl Stadium in January 2012. The Nittany Lions have yet to play in a Peach Bowl.
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