Now that we know the two college football bowls in which Penn State will not be participating, this question remains: Will the Nittany Lions still be able to grab a berth in the Rose Bowl?
The Lions’ 28-17 defeat Saturday to second-ranked Ohio State knocked them out of the College Football Playoff race, where the top four will compete in the national semifinals at the Fiesta and Peach bowls on Dec. 28. But a win Saturday over Rutgers, a 38 ½-point underdog, keeps them alive for what would be their second Rose Bowl appearance in four years.
That possibility centers on Saturday’s game for the Big Ten West championship between Minnesota (10-1, 7-1) and Wisconsin (9-2, 6-2). A win by the Golden Gophers at home would give them the division title, a matchup with Ohio State in the Dec. 7 conference championship game in Indianapolis and probably the Big Ten’s spot in Pasadena on Jan. 1.
However, if the Badgers were to defeat Minnesota, they would be the division champ as a result of the head-to-head tiebreaker. A loss in the title game to the Buckeyes, who defeated them 38-7 in the regular season, would give Wisconsin three losses and might enable Penn State (9-2, 6-2) to grab the roses.
Of course, everything is dependent on the final ranking delivered by the College Football Playoff selection committee on Dec. 8, the day bowl bids are awarded. With Ohio State assuredly ticketed for the CFP, the Rose Bowl would choose the next-highest ranked Big Ten team.
The committee placed Penn State (No. 8) higher than Minnesota (No. 10) in last week’s ranking even though the Golden Gophers defeated the Lions, 31-26, on Nov. 9. Would it do the same thing if Minnesota would lose in the Big Ten championship game, giving each team two defeats? And how tenuous would the Gophers’ standing be if they were to get blown out by Ohio State?
Let’s not get too far ahead, however. The curiosity over the CFP’s fourth rankings of the season Tuesday night concerns how highly they consider Penn State among the six Power 5 teams with two losses, a group that also consists of Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin, Oregon, and Notre Dame.
The committee does not use the Associated Press or USA Today polls in its considerations. For comparison’s sake, Sunday’s latest AP poll ranked Florida eighth, Michigan 10th, Penn State 12th, Wisconsin 13th, Oregon 14th, and Notre Dame 15th.
Provided they have a top-11 spot in the final ranking, the Nittany Lions could still have a shot at a New Year’s 6 bowl: the Orange Bowl, which would take the higher-ranked team from the SEC or Big Ten to play an ACC representative; or the Cotton Bowl, whose two teams are chosen by the CFP committee and where the top Group of Five team might be sent.
However, if the Lions are out of reach of a New Year’s 6 bowl, their likely destination is the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1 in Tampa, Fla., against an opponent from the SEC.