STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — When Penn State’s players went to sleep Tuesday night, they did so knowing they are now members of the No. 12-ranked team in the nation. It’s a dramatic departure from anything any of them have experienced any other night since coming to Happy Valley.
Well, most of them, anyway. When Torrence Brown woke up Wednesday, he didn’t know his team was one of the biggest surprises when the first College Football Playoff rankings were unveiled the night before.
“I actually found out this morning. It was kind of crazy,” Brown, a redshirt sophomore defensive lineman said. “We haven’t talked about it as a team yet, but it is pretty exciting. I’m not really big on social media. I’ve only got 200 or 300 followers or whatever. I guess that’s why I missed it. I saw it this morning.”
Penn State (6-2, 4-1 Big Ten) is currently No. 20 in the AP Top 25 and No. 23 in the Coaches Poll, but the CFP committee obviously likes the Nittany Lions more than that. They are ranked higher in many of the best-known computer polls — and No. 15 in Bill Connelly’s S&P+ advanced statistics-based ratings — but seeing the Nittany Lions at No. 12 was a shock for many people around the country.
This team was 2-2 five weeks ago and smarting from a 49-10 loss at Michigan. Since then, Penn State has won four straight, including a 24-21 win against then-No. 2 Ohio State. The only team with a win against a higher-ranked team in the first CFP ranking is No. 1 Alabama, which beat No. 4 Texas A&M.
“For guys like me, it kind of reminds why we came to Penn State,” junior LB Jason Cabinda said. “It was to put the university and the program back in that position of ranking and getting Penn State back towards the top where it belongs.
“It’s set a tone for where we headed and the direction we’re headed right now and in the future. It is kind of showing people that we’re back.”
While the Ohio State victory is obviously the biggest selling point on Penn State’s resume, the Nittany Lions also have wins against three other teams with winning records — Minnesota, Maryland and Temple. They are also going to be favored in each of the final four games of the season.
Winning those four games could still give Penn State a chance to play for the Big Ten title, but No. 3 Michigan would need to lose twice — and the Wolverines will be heavily favored in every game until the season finale at Ohio State on Nov. 26. Getting to 10-2 would put the Nittany Lions in a great position to earn a spot in one of the New Year’s Six bowl games, however.
Being ranked No. 12 at this point confirms that, even though Penn State is the fourth-highest team in the Big Ten. The conference could end up with four teams in the NY6 games.
While Brown didn’t find out until Wednesday morning, Cabinda and redshirt freshman DE Ryan Buchholz saw the news Tuesday night. It’s safe to assume most of the players did.
“I found out just checking Twitter after practice,” Buchholz said. “Everyone was re-tweeting it. Everyone was tweeting “hashtag 12” and all that. I thought it was crazy, looking at all of the teams that are in front of us and behind us. We’re in there with some of the great teams in the country. I think it’s just amazing that we are there. It was pretty awesome coming in and seeing that number right there. It was cool.”