Eleven days before the first edition of the College Football Playoff rankings, Penn State likely wasn’t close to consideration for the Top 25 for any of the selection committee members.
Then Penn State collected one of the best wins of the 2016 season 10 days prior, and the Nittany Lions are now likely to be firmly inside the rankings when they are unveiled Tuesday night (7 p.m. ET, ESPN). Ohio State is likely to either be the highest or second-highest rated one-loss team in the first CFP rankings, depending on where the Buckeyes and Louisville land.
The Nittany Lions knocked off the Buckeyes, 24-21, at Beaver Stadium in a nationally-televised game with an incredible atmosphere. They have also won four straight games, and are one dropped pass on the road from likely being 7-1, which is remarkable considering the amount of injuries the defense has endured and the general uncertainty about the program (at least from the outside looking in) at the start of the campaign.
Penn State is currently No. 20 in the Associated Press poll and No. 23 in the coaches’ edition. Where will the Nittany Lions end up in the first CFP ranking?
They are an interesting case for the committee. Penn State is 14th in Massey’s college football ranking composite, which culls together a bunch of computer rankings. The Nittany Lions are 15th in Bill Connelly’s S&P+ rankings, which is the top advanced statistical model.
The win against Ohio State was not an “eye test” win. It was a sloppy game in bad conditions and Penn State needed two blocked kicks to pull off the upset.
The selection committee hasn’t made much clear in its first two seasons. It seems like the critical data used to determine the rankings shifts from week-to-week. The committee definitely has advanced statistical data available, but it also includes former coaches who are prone to lean on more traditional evaluation methods.
Above all else to this point though, the committee has shown that it cares more about quality wins than anything else — even to which teams you lose to. Penn State has one of the two best wins, but the resume is a little light beyond that.
If the committee believes in the numbers and heavily weights the Ohio State win (and the clear improvement during the past month), then Penn State could end up in the mid-to-late teens. If they see the Ohio State win as fluky and a resume with one road win and no others against teams considered for the Top 25 as being thin, the Nittany Lions will likely end up in the early 20s.