LOS ANGELES — When Penn State finished one spot shy of making the College Football Playoff, the team’s non-conference schedule became a topic of discussion.
The Nittany Lions played at Pittsburgh, a team that also defeated No. 2 Clemson and finished the season ranked in the top 25, in Week 2 and lost 42-39 despite a dramatic near-comeback in the second half. Penn State also beat Temple, which won the American Athletic Conference, at Beaver Stadium.
Washington, the team that claimed the No. 4 spot, played Rutgers, Idaho (which did make a bowl game) and FCS-level Portland State in its non-conference slate. While saying that had Penn State just scheduled another soft opponent instead of Pitt is overlooking several key points in this argument, it is possible that the Nittany Lions would have made the Playoff instead of Washington in that scenario.
When Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour spoke Saturday with assembled media two days before the Nittany Lions play Southern Cal in the Rose Bowl, she talked about the program’s scheduling philosophy and missing out on college football’s final four.
“I was certainly disappointed” Barbour said. “I’m good friends with the AD at Washington, so this is not a slam on them, but the committee kind of did go away from what they were talking about in terms of strength of schedule, a lot of chatter around that.
“I still believe that you’ve got to (schedule tough games), and it’s been proven out in other places. It was proven out with Ohio State getting in, so it has gone both ways. We’re going to stick with our philosophy from a non-conference standpoint of one Power 5 (opponent). We’re going to bring some great games to Beaver Stadium for our fans.”
Penn State’s non-conference schedule is set for the next three seasons. Here’s how it will shake out:
vs. Georgia State
vs. Appalachian State
vs. Kent State
Idaho is going to drop from FBS to FCS after next season. Barbour said Penn State will not seek a new opponent for that spot in the schedule.
“We’re going to play that game,” she said. “We’re going to honor that contract.”
Beyond 2019, Penn State has its one Power 5 non-conference foe scheduled through 2025. There are home-and-home matchups with Auburn, West Virginia and Virginia Tech.
Barbour said missing out on the Playoff is not going to change how Penn State schedules, and praised the team for handling the disappointment well.
“We’re all competitors,” Barbour said. “If there’s a place in the pecking order that is as competitive as you can be, that’s where you want to be. Certainly we believed that we were College Football Playoff worthy and we deserved one of those four places. The committee decided otherwise. We get to come to the Rose Bowl and play a really, really good USC team in the hottest game in the country. Those CFP games are going on today, but there’s no hotter ticket than our game on Monday.
“I’m really, really proud of our guys. In truth, they were disappointed. They wanted to play for a national championship. That’s why you come to Penn State. They very quickly turned their focus, led by their head coach, to USC, USC, USC, Rose Bowl, Rose Bowl, Rose Bowl.”