INDIANAPOLIS — Penn State is probably not going to be in the College Football Playoff.
Nittany Lions fans can choose to feel outraged about this, but let’s be clear about something. This is not a repeat of 1994. While the explosive offense might rekindle memories of Ki-Jana Carter and Kerry Collins, this Penn State team is not getting robbed of a chance to play for the national title if it accepts a bid to the Rose Bowl on Sunday afternoon.
What this Penn State teams has accomplished is remarkable, unfathomable and surreal. There are plenty of adjectives, but few that seem to convey the appropriate scope. For quite a while Saturday night, The Nittany Lions looked overmatched on both lines against Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game.
They trailed by 21 points. It seemed over. There was a trip to Dallas to play in the Cotton Bowl as a nice consolation prize awaiting them.
Then it wasn’t.
Penn State didn’t just orchestrate one of the best comebacks in program history, it did so against one of the best defenses in the nation. When it was all said and done, Penn State had won 38-31 to become Big Ten champions.
“It’s been our script all season long,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “We’ve done it all different ways. But that’s the sign of a good football team when you find different ways to be successful.”
The Nittany Lions shredded Wisconsin like no other team had since Alabama thumped the Badgers at the start of the 2015 season. Penn State put up 435 yards — 454 before the final minute of going backwards to kill off the clock. Take away a bad snap that turned into a team rush and a defensive touchdown, and it’s 472.
Ohio State had 411 yards and 5.55 yards per play against Wisconsin in a 30-23 win earlier this season. The Nittany Lions averaged 7.2 yards per play. Trace McSorley threw for 384 yards. That’s a bunch. In fact, it’s the most anyone has had against Wisconsin since 2009.
It was a tidal wave of big plays. Saeed Blacknall had his best collegiate game with six catches for 155 yards and two scores. DaeSean Hamilton, who often seemed forgotten in this new-look offense, had eight grabs for 118 yards. Mike Gesicki had three catches, including two outstanding ones, for 58 yards.
“Coach [Joe] Moorhead said [Friday] night in a meeting, it is not a 50/50 ball, it’s a 100/0 ball,” Gesicki said. “When that ball is in the air, it is our ball.”
Was it enough to convince the College Football Playoff committee? Probably not. Penn State might have the head-to-head win over Ohio State, but the Buckeyes have a better overall resume. It just does. So does Clemson. Penn State has a pretty decent argument against Washington, and has gained a lot of ground on Michigan in the past few weeks.
If this were an eight-team field, Penn State would be in. If it were eight or 16 or even 24 teams, like FCS, the Nittany Lions would be an interesting team to watch and a nightmare draw for somebody.
Penn State just did things to Wisconsin that Ohio State and Michigan could not do. The Nittany Lions did things to Iowa that Michigan and Nebraska could not do. Heck, they crushed Michigan State, while the Buckeyes and Wolverines did not.
Yes, Michigan beat Penn State by 39 points. That was also more than two months ago, and a lot has happened since then. The Wolverines offense has stagnated. The Nittany Lions’ defense has gotten healthy.
If Michigan and Penn State played next week on a neutral field, it would certainly be a more interesting game. If Virginia Tech just put 35 points on Clemson, how many could Penn State get?
The Penn State offense is producing at an incredible level. A “Joe Moorhead is also getting a hefty raise in the coming weeks, not just James Franklin” kind of level. The defense got a lot better in the second half against the Badgers, just as it has improved during the second half of this season.
“Just being with this group of guys for another game — they’re special,” said Nittany Lions defensive back Grant Haley, who made the game-ending fourth-down tackle. “It doesn’t matter where it’s going to be. Whatever the committee wants to do, that’s up to them. Just going out there and battling with these guys, that’s what the special thing is about this team.”
There might be an argument that Penn State is the fourth-best team in the country, but that’s a stretch. The Nittany Lions might very well be the fifth- or sixth-best team in the nation, and that is a stupendous achievement.
“You look at the basketball tournament — how teams are there, like 65 or something like that?” Franklin said. “And 66, 67 and 68 are complaining they should have gotten in. There is no perfect system.”
“I think we can make a great case for ourselves. We’re going to be part of that conversation. … Whatever the powers that be tell us what our future is, we’re going to be really appreciative and we’re going to be really happy.”