UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Although the final score from Saturday’s game against Wisconsin wouldn’t indicate it, Penn State was never in any real danger of losing this weekend.
The same could not be said for many of the programs ranked in front of the Nittany Lions in last week’s College Football Playoff rankings, resulting in Penn State climbing back to No. 14.
As the Nittany Lions took care of business against the Badgers on Saturday afternoon, the teams in front of them stumbled.
No. 11 Kentucky lost to Tennessee, and No. 14 N.C. State, No. 16 Mississippi State, No. 17 Boston College and No. 18 all lost, leaving the door wide open for Penn State to climb back up the rankings.
The Nittany Lions have two very winnable games remaining. The first comes on the road this week at lowly Rutgers before returning home to take on Maryland on senior night. Wins against the Scarlet Knights and Terrapins would give Penn State nine wins and the third-best overall record in the Big Ten.
With Michigan and Ohio State still to meet, it will be one of those teams most likely in the playoff, while the other gets relegated to the Rose Bowl as the next-best option from the Big Ten. With Penn State next in line, it’s not too far out of the question to see the Nittany Lions back in the hunt for a New Year’s Six bowl game, such as the Fiesta Bowl.
A lot would still have to happen for Penn State to see themselves in a New Year’s Six bowl for the third year in a row, but many of the teams ahead of the Nittany Lions in the standings still have big games left on their respective schedules.
For this week, the tough matchups for the teams ranked ahead of Penn State involve No. 11 Central Florida taking on 9-1 Cincinnati, and No. 12 Syracuse will be taking on No. 3 Notre Dame in a game at Yankee Stadium.
All things considered, the likely destinations for a Penn State bowl game are the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., against a team from the SEC, the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla., against an SEC team or the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla.
There’s plenty of season still left, and it’s always possible the Nittany Lions could lose any given week, but as teams ahead of Penn State continue losing, the top 12 and a New Year’s Six bowl game is very much in sight.