Penn State football: Despite roadblock, Nittany Lions still have a path to the playoff
Penn State turned over its fate to the College Football Playoff committee Saturday night, of which it's well aware. Still, the Lions left Ohio State on Saturday night marshaling hope (and not falsely) that they remain contenders.
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"I know we lost by a point, but so what?" tight end Mike Gesicki said. "If we win by a point, everything changes? We're one of the best teams in the country. Turn on the film, watch the tape, whatever you want. Look at the talent, look at the guys we have, look at the experience, look at all the games we've gone through, the drives we put together, the plays our guys made. We're one of the best teams in the country. That's literally just facts."
The sentiment carried weight but, for Penn State, things did change with its 39-38 loss to Ohio State. The Lions (7-1) no longer see a straight line to the playoff and, like last year, need icicles to fall around them.
Penn State's one-point loss, which stung further since it led by 11 with 5:23 to play, left the team in a murky pond of unbeaten and one-loss teams fishing for the three spots beneath Alabama.
When the first College Football Playoff rankings are released Tuesday night, the Lions will start from better footing than they did last season. Penn State started its 2016 climb at No. 12, behind such teams as Florida, Nebraska, Auburn, Louisville, Texas A&M, Michigan and Ohio State (which it had beaten the weekend before).
This Tuesday, Penn State likely will be ranked from 6-8, surrounded by Clemson, Notre Dame, Oklahoma and Miami. All four have more-difficult closing schedules than the Lions.
What Penn State likely won't have is the benefit of a Big Ten championship-game appearance. Ohio State must lose twice in its remaining four regular-season games for Penn State to have a chance. As a result, Penn State might have to rely on the looks test that lifted Ohio State into the playoff last season -- despite a thrilling road loss in State College.
Requiring help isn't a good spot for Penn State, particularly when the CFP committee weighs good wins and losses. The Lions don't have a bad loss. But do they have enough good wins to carry them?
Considering that, here's a primer on which cheering sections Penn State should be sitting in as the season hits November.
First, claim style points: Penn State has one team (Michigan State) with an above-.500 record remaining on its schedule. The Lions need to deliver a one-sided victory in East Lansing next week, maybe something similar to what they did in 2005.
Following its last-second loss at Michigan that season, Penn State dismantled Illinois 63-10 on the road to the Orange Bowl. From here on out, the Lions have to make it look easy.
Become a Michigan fan: The Wolverines (6-2) can upend the Big Ten, and improve Penn State's resume, by winning three of their last four games. Michigan closes the regular season at Wisconsin and at home against Ohio State. A Michigan win over Wisconsin would confer some schedule prestige to Penn State.
Whittle the conference contenders: Natural attrition will handle some of this. Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and TCU play a round-robin of games, leaving the Big 12 unlikely to have a one-loss champion. Unbeaten Miami has a difficult three-game stretch: an ACC Coastal duel with Virginia Tech, one-loss Notre Dame and Virginia.
Clemson has road games at North Carolina State (still unbeaten in the ACC) and rival South Carolina. And Georgia plays three teams currently 6-2 in the next month, including a trip to Auburn. There are enough juicy games left to prompt a rankings churn.
Root for Notre Dame's remaining road opponents: The Irish (7-1) visit Miami and Stanford in the season's last three weeks, when they're most susceptible to a second loss. Further, Notre Dame's four remaining opponents all have winning records. Penn State won't be able to match 11-1 resumes with Notre Dame.
After the game, Saquon Barkley was asked whether he still considered Penn State a playoff contender. "Yes, sir," he said without hesitation. He added this for effect.
"We beat [Ohio State] last year, and they made it to the playoffs," Barkley said. "College football is very unpredictable. Everyone who wants to count us out, go ahead, count us out."
Final thoughts from Ohio State's 39-38 win over Penn State.
1. Though Penn State is gaining ground, Ohio State still has more athletic players across the roster, particularly on its lines. Penn State's offensive and defensive fronts were clinging to the field in the second half, and Ohio State took advantage.
2. Saquon Barkley felt responsible for the ankle injury that forced left tackle Ryan Bates to leave the game. Barkley rolled into Bates in the second half, causing the lineman to roll backward to the ground. "I'm just praying for him," Barkley said. "I hope things are OK."
3. Penn State's 38 points were the most it has scored in 19 trips to Ohio State dating to 1912. That probably should have been enough.
This article is written by Mark Wogenrich from The Morning Call and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.