Penn State landed at No. 10 in College Football Playoff rankings for a second straight week Tuesday evening, maintaining its position after a 56-44 win over Nebraska. The Nittany Lions (9-2) surged to a 42-10 halftime lead en route a 14th consecutive home victory.
Unlike Nov. 11, when top playoff contenders Georgia and Notre Dame suffered lopsided losses, the most recent weekend of college football action didn’t provide substantial surprises up top. Alabama remains No. 1, followed by fellow unbeaten Miami at No. 2, Clemson at No. 3 and Oklahoma at No. 4.
Wisconsin, the only Big Ten team with fewer than two losses, sustained its spot at No. 5, on the brink of playoff inclusion. The Badgers will face Ohio State on Dec. 2 in the Big Ten Championship Game. There’s still an outside chance the Buckeyes, who play at Michigan this Saturday, could make a late push for the playoff.
Ohio State sits one spot ahead of Penn State, as it has in the first four playoff rankings. Penn State was listed No. 6 in initial rankings on Halloween but an ensuing loss at Michigan State dropped the Nittany Lions to No. 14.
Located in the top 10 for three of four weeks, Penn State is proving it has staying power in the eyes of this playoff committee. Without a path to the Big Ten Championship, these Nittany Lions won’t have a case for playoff possibilities, but things certainly appear positive regarding placement in a marquee bowl.
Penn State is 18-3 in its last 21 games, with each of those losses occurring against ranked opponents away from Happy Valley. The combined margin of defeat was 7 points, representing a pair of last-second losses and two dramatic games vs. top-10 teams.
The Nittany Lions boast an obvious Heisman Trophy finalist in running back Saquon Barkley, who totaled 224 yards and 3 scores against Nebraska. A national name playing for a national brand tends to catch the eye of bowl coordinators, who likely paid close attention Saturday night when Barkley declared he won’t sit out of postseason action.
— Penn State On BTN (@PennStateOnBTN) November 19, 2017
Penn State finished No. 7 in the Associated Press rankings last season following an 11-3 campaign that ended with a Rose Bowl loss to USC. It was quite a climb for the Nittany Lions, who weren’t ranked at all until mid-October.
This autumn, the road toward upper-echelon rankings wasn’t nearly as steep. Penn State started the season considered a top-10 team, rose to No. 2 before a loss to Ohio State on Oct. 28, and has largely played like a top-tier program while breaking an abundance of offensive records and playing improved defense.
Prior to 2016, Penn State hadn’t finished a season ranked since 2009. The Nittany Lions completed an 11-2 season at No. 9 that year, following an 11-2 2008 campaign that resulted in a Big Ten Championship and No. 8 ranking.
That two-year stretch serves as the measuring stick for this edition of Penn State football. The Nittany Lions are in position to finish higher than either of those outcomes with a win in the next two games, including a likely New Year’s Six bowl matchup against a highly ranked foe such as Auburn or Notre Dame.
A victory Saturday at Maryland would give Penn State back-to-back double-digit win totals for the first time since 2008-09, and a bowl win would result the program’s third such occurrence of consecutive top-10 finishes since 1987. There would surely be debate, but if Penn State finished in the top seven for a second straight season, we may have witnessed the finest two-year stretch this program has produced in the 2000s.