A wild weekend in college football raised the potential ceiling for Penn State’s 2016 season. And has the Nittany Lions continuing their creep up the College Football Playoff rankings.
Penn State is No. 8 in the new CFP rankings, which were released Tuesday night. The Nittany Lions were No. 12 in the first edition and No. 10 last week.
Five of the nine teams ranked in front of Penn State last week lost this past weekend. Clemson (previously No. 2) lost at home to Pittsburgh, which also beat Penn State earlier this season. Michigan (No. 3) lost at Iowa. Washington (No. 4) lost at home to Southern Cal. Texas A&M (No. 8) and Auburn (No. 9) also lost.
The Nittany Lions avoided the chaos with a 45-31 victory at Indiana, but it was far from a smooth win. Penn State trailed by 10 points in the third quarter and trailed twice in the fourth before putting the game away late.
Indiana held Saquon Barkley to 60 yards on 33 carries. That is the fewest yards with at least that many attempts in an FBS game since 2000, according to sports-reference.com. But Barkley did score two big touchdowns late in the game.
Trace McSorley started the game 8 of 19 with 2 interceptions, but closed with a flurry of big plays. He finished with 332 passing yards and 3 touchdowns (2 passing, 1 rushing).
Penn State has won six games in a row, and Michigan’s stunning loss to Iowa has opened up new possibilities for how this season could end. The Nittany Lions must win at Rutgers next week and at home against Michigan State in two weeks. Those teams have one conference win between them — a 49-0 rout by the Spartans over the Scarlet Knights last Saturday.
If Penn State wins out to finish 10-2 overall and 8-1 in Big Ten play, and Ohio State defeats Michigan at home in two weeks, the Nittany Lions would win the Big Ten East tiebreaker and play for the conference championship the following weekend in Indianapolis. If that happens, the Nittany Lions would enter the final week of the regular season very much in contention for a berth in the College Football Playoff.
Such lofty goals seemed implausible after the Nittany Lions lost 49-10 at Michigan to complete a 2-2 September. Penn State will now be, at a minimum, heavily favored to finish 10-2, which would likely secure a bid to a New Year’s Six bowl game.
For the Nittany Lions to actually have a chance to reach the playoff, though, there will need to be more carnage for top-10 teams around the nation.
Penn State coach James Franklin has made his commitment to keeping the Nittany Lions focused on only the game in front of them into a rallying cry for the team since the first CFP rankings came out. He’s taken to repeating the name of the next team on the schedule several times, whether it is during a press conference or on social media.
Rutgers, Rutgers, Rutgers, Rutgers, Rutgers, Rutgers, Rutgers, Rutgers, Rutgers, Rutgers, Rutgers, complete focus on Rutgers nothing else!
— James Franklin (@coachjfranklin) November 13, 2016
Complete College Football Playoff Rankings, Week 12:
1. Alabama (10-0)
2. Ohio State (9-1)
3. Michigan (9-1)
4. Clemson (9-1)
5. Louisville (9-1)
6. Washington (9-1)
7. Wisconsin (8-2)
8. Penn State (8-2)
9. Oklahoma (8-2)
10. Colorado (8-2)
11. Oklahoma State (8-2)
12. Utah (8-2)
13. USC (7-3)
14. West Virginia (8-1)
15. Auburn (7-3)
16. LSU (6-3)
17. Florida State (7-3)
18. Nebraska (8-2)
19. Tennessee (7-3)
20. Boise State (9-1)
21. Western Michigan (10-0)
22. Washington State (8-2)
23. Florida (7-2)
24. Stanford (7-3)
25. Texas A&M (7-3)