In the end, a conference title and a win against Ohio State wasn’t enough for Penn State.
The Nittany Lions were not one of the four teams selected for the College Football Playoff, which was announced Sunday. Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson and Washington will play for the national championship. No. 1 Alabama will play No. 4 Washington in Atlanta in the Peach Bowl. No. 2 Clemson will play No. 3 Ohio State in Glendale, Ariz., in the Fiesta Bowl.
Penn State ended up at No. 5 in the final CFP rankings. By missing out on the playoff, the Nittany Lions are guaranteed a spot in the Rose Bowl.
“I hear people on TV talking about that they feel like — they feel like maybe the playoff has taken away from the bowls,” Penn State coach James Franklin said after his team beat Wisconsin for the Big Ten title on Saturday night. “Are you kidding me? The Rose Bowl? It doesn’t get a whole lot better than that. That’s a special deal. We would love to be a part of the playoff conversation. We’d love that opportunity. But also to be able to represent the Big Ten as the Big Ten Conference champions, playing in the Rose Bowl, that will be great as well.”
Penn State (11-2) has won nine straight games and climbed to No. 5 in the latest Associated Press poll. The Nittany Lions completed a remarkable run to a Big Ten title Saturday night with an incredible 38-31 comeback victory over the Badgers. They trailed 28-7 at one point, but rallied behind 384 passing yards and four touchdowns from quarterback Trace McSorley.
The Nittany Lions are certainly one of the hottest teams in the nation. Alabama and Western Michigan are the only teams with longer winning streaks. They have one of the best individual wins, knocking off Ohio State at Beaver Stadium.
They have also scored at least 38 points in six straight games. Penn State had the most yards against Wisconsin since Alabama in the 2015 season opener, and the most passing yards against the Badgers by anyone since 2009.
In the end, there were four Power 5 teams left with one loss or less, and they all made the playoff. The Buckeyes have road wins against Big 12 champion Oklahoma and Wisconsin, and a home win against Michigan. The Nittany Lions did move ahead of Michigan in the Associated Press poll, but lost to the Wolverines, 49-10, before the start of this stunning surge.
Penn State will likely play Southern Cal in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2. The Trojans are also one of the hottest teams in the nation, having won eight straight games since a 1-3 start. They beat both Pac-12 champion Washington and runner-up Colorado.
The Buffaloes could also earn the bid, but Southern Cal will likely finish ahead of Colorado in the final CFP rankings and the Trojans have the head-to-head advantage. Both of those things, plus the allure of having Southern Cal back in the Rose Bowl, should sway the decision in the Trojans’ favor.
This will be Penn State’s first trip to Pasadena since the end of the 2008 season. The Nittany Lions lost to Southern Cal in the 2009 Rose Bowl.
Penn State won the Big Ten outright for the first time since 1994, after being co-champs in 2005 and 2008. The Nittany Lions won the 1995 Rose Bowl, routing Oregon to complete an undefeated 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 against Wisconsin. “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.”
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- Trace McSorley’s rise to college football stardom is not a surprise to those who know him best
- Penn State, Wisconsin followed different recruiting trails
- What James Franklin and his players said after winning the Big Ten championship