The College Football Playoff Selection Committee delivered a surprise to Penn State on Tuesday, placing it 12th in its inaugural rankings.

Kirby Hocutt, chair of the selection committee, praised Penn State's "strong schedule," which ranks as the sixth-toughest nationally, according to the NCAA. That's based solely on opponent won-loss records, not on rankings or perceived team strengths.

"They have a great win over Ohio State," said Hocutt, the Texas Tech athletic director. "In the eyes of the committee, it was very impressed with Penn State's improvement and quality of wins."

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The unexpected ranking positioned the Lions in early contention for one of the CFP's New Year's Bowls. In fact, at 10-2 at season's end, Penn State could make a convincing case to represent the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl.

First, though, a reminder. Penn State hosts Iowa in prime time Saturday night, and coach James Franklin isn't letting go of his single-minded focus.

But that won't stop us. Here's Penn State's path to the Rose Bowl.

Let's stipulate that unbeaten Michigan defeats 10-2 Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game next month; that Penn State and Ohio State finish 10-2; and that Nebraska, with a loss to Ohio State this week, finishes 10-2 as well.

Michigan heads to the College Football Playoff, leaving the Rose Bowl to choose a Big Ten replacement. Here's how the conference defines the Rose Bowl selection procedures in that case.

* Rose Bowl Game has sole discretion on replacement team, and will generally select highest-rated available team, but will take into consideration final College Football Playoff rankings, head-to-head competition, division champions and most recent Rose Bowl Game appearances.

Based on the current CFP rankings, the Rose Bowl would be expected to consider Ohio State (No. 6), Wisconsin (No. 8) or Nebraska (No. 10) before Penn State. But two criteria favor Penn State.

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The Lions have a win over Ohio State, which has beaten Wisconsin and plays Nebraska on Saturday. In choosing between Penn State and Ohio State, the Rose Bowl could make that head-to-head game a deciding factor.

In a decision between Penn State and Wisconsin, the Badgers could point to their West Division title. But the committee also might remember that Wisconsin played in three consecutive Rose Bowls from 2011-13, losing all three.

Penn State hasn't been to the Rose Bowl in eight years (Nebraska not since 2002). How important is getting a new face to Pasadena? The decision will be more complicated than merely selecting the highest-ranked team available.

Should Penn State finish 10-2, Athletic Director Sandy Barbour could deliver a compelling PowerPoint to the Rose Bowl committee. Penn State would bring...

* An eight-game win streak

* One of the nation's most exciting players in Saquon Barkley

* A ticket-buying fan base thrilled at the team's unexpected revival

As outlandish as that might have sounded in September, it's not a reach anymore. At 10-2, Penn State is a viable candidate for one of the New Year's Bowls. Even the Rose.

Now, back to fretting over Iowa. ___

This article was written by Mark Wogenrich from The Morning Call and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.