UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The initial College Football Playoff Rankings are out, and Penn State comes in No. 14 in the nation. It’s the third poll the Nittany Lions are currently ranked in the top 15, joining their No. 13 ranking in the Amway Coaches Poll and No. 14 ranking in the AP Top 25.
Penn State will hit the road to take on No. 5 Michigan this weekend in a game that essentially will decide the outcome of the Big Ten East division.
A win by the Nittany Lions assures they still have a pulse in the hunt for a spot in the Big Ten Championship game, while a win for the Wolverines puts them in the driver’s seat as they begin a stretch of games that features games against Big Ten East rivals Michigan State and No. 10 Ohio State.
With losses to both the Spartans and Buckeyes, Penn State will need a lot of help from their Big Ten rivals, but they also need to win out with a schedule that features Michigan, Wisconsin, Rutgers and Maryland. Beating the Wolverines would go a long way in proving the Nittany Lions deserve to be back in the playoff picture, even with their two losses.
The Big Ten has three teams in the top 15 in Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan which is topped only by the five teams the SEC has ranked inside the top 15 — No. 1 Alabama, No. 3 LSU, No. 6 Georgia, No. 9 Kentucky and No. 11 Florida.
Alabama heads to LSU, and Georgia travels to Kentucky this weekend for what will be a duo of games that will shake up the rankings for next week. The winners of those two games likely will face off in the SEC Championship game at the end of the season.
For the Nittany Lions to get back in the playoff hunt, they’ll need to take down Michigan. A win over a top-five team on the road would almost certainly send them back into the top 10. Winning out will be necessary, and should they get past the Wolverines, the schedule eases up rather well after Wisconsin.
It’s a long road to get into playoff contention, but at the very least, should Penn State win their remaining games, they’ll lock up a spot in a New Year’s Six Bowl for the third year in a row.