Penn State’s road to the Rose Bowl is a little clearer after the penultimate rankings unveiled by the College Football Playoff selection committee, but the Nittany Lions still need some help to get there when the bowl invitations are handed out Sunday.
The rankings released Tuesday night kept the Lions in 10th place, the same as last week, after their lackluster 27-6 victory over Rutgers. However, Wisconsin’s 38-17 win over Minnesota vaulted the Badgers up into eighth place as the top two-loss team on the list.
Despite a stunning defeat at 6-6 Illinois, Wisconsin has moved up, according to CFP committee chair Rob Mullens, with its three wins over top 25 teams: Michigan, Iowa and Minnesota.
Should the Badgers defeat No. 1 Ohio State in Saturday’s Big Ten championship game, or if they play a competitive contest and lose by, say, 10 or fewer points, they would be the likely Rose Bowl participant Jan. 1 against the Pac-12 champion.
But if the Buckeyes can defeat Wisconsin along the lines of their 38-7 win over the Badgers in the regular season, the path to Pasadena for Penn State probably would be free from obstruction, its first trip since after the 2016 season.
In the Big Ten’s case, the Rose Bowl contract states that if the conference champion is selected for the College Football Playoff, the next-highest CFP-ranked team “traditionally” will go. But there are exceptions.
According to the Rose Bowl website, if the next-highest ranked team is among a “cluster” of teams separated by a few spots, the bowl would select “the best possible matchup.”
Factors to be taken into account in that situation, the site says, are “in no particular order, the last time a team played in the Rose Bowl, head-to-head results, regular season schedule, overall record, opponents played, past playoff or bowl appearances and performance, and historical matchups.”
Had Minnesota defeated Wisconsin last Saturday, the Golden Gophers would have had the inside track on the Rose Bowl, particularly because they hadn’t played in Pasadena since 1962. But the loss dropped them to No. 18 and almost certainly out of the Rose Bowl picture.
If the Rose Bowl doesn’t work out for Penn State, the Orange Bowl and the Cotton Bowl remain remote possibilities.
The Orange Bowl, on Dec. 30, will feature an ACC team against the highest-ranked team from the SEC or the Big Ten. With Clemson likely to be chosen for the playoff, Virginia appears to have the best shot at the ACC berth, perhaps against Florida, which is No. 9 this week.
The Dec. 28 Cotton Bowl will feature two at-large teams selected by the CFP committee, one of them being the top Group of 5, which will likely be Memphis of the AAC if the Tigers can defeat Cincinnati in Saturday’s conference championship game. Bowl projections for the second team give Baylor a slight edge.