The College Football Playoff selection committee issued its decision Sunday on the four teams that will compete for the national championship tournament, an outcome that did not include Big Ten champion Penn State, which just missed out at No. 5.
The Nittany Lions (11-2) thought they had a chance to squeeze into the field after coming back from a 21-point, second-quarter deficit and defeating Wisconsin, 38-31, for the conference championship on Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. However, the committee made them the first team out.
Penn State will go on to play in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2 against Southern California, a game matching two of the hottest teams in college football. The Nittany Lions have won nine games in a row, and the Trojans (9-3) are on an eight-game winning streak. It will be the first meeting of the two teams since the 2009 Rose Bowl, the last appearance for each in the game in Pasadena, Calif.
Nittany Lions coach James Franklin said his players were appreciative of the chance to play another game.
"Our guys obviously would love to have been in the playoffs, but they also are excited about the opportunity to play in a big bowl game and continue our season," Franklin said in an interview with ESPN. "So we've had a great year. I'm really proud of our guys.
"Yeah, they would love to have been in the playoffs, we all would love to have been in the playoffs, but still we're very, very appreciative and honored for the opportunities that we have."
Clemson won the ACC title on Saturday night, and Washington wrapped up the Pac-12 championship on Friday night.
Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt, chairman of the selection committee, said members of the panel discussed Washington and Penn State for hours before deciding to put the Huskies into the playoff ahead of the Lions.
He said Washington's only loss was to a top-10 team in USC, while of Penn State's two losses, one was a "not competitive" 49-10 drubbing by Michigan, the other coming to 8-4 Pittsburgh. He said strength of schedule favored Penn State over the Huskies.
"We looked at key statistical categories, which translates to performance on the field each and every week," Hocutt said in an ESPN interview. "And the statistical categories that the selection committee took value in, that we discussed in detail last night and again this morning, Washington has the advantage.
"We talked to our coaches about what they saw in the performance of these two teams on the field, not just in one particular game, but over the course of 13 games. Washington seemed to have the advantage there as well. So … coming out this morning, Washington deserved that No. 4 spot, and the selection committee believes they're a better football team when compared to Penn State."
There also was the matter of Ohio State, which finished tied for first with Penn State in the Big Ten East, but the Nittany Lions represented the division in the conference championship game thanks to their Oct. 22 win over Ohio State.
"I think that you can make arguments for and against so many different teams," Franklin said. "Obviously, us being Big Ten champions and winning a game head-to-head, we felt like gave us a lot of value, and the fact that we're hot right now. We overcame early setbacks.
"So I think you can make arguments a lot of different ways, and obviously based on your perspective and the games you've been able to see and maybe the area of the country you're from. You're going to have a lot of different perspectives on it, but again, we're appreciative of the opportunity that we have."
Explaining the inclusion of Ohio State over a team that won the conference championship and defeated the Buckeyes, Hocutt said other metrics were considered.
"We come back to our protocol, and this is identifying the four very best teams in college football," Hocutt said "Conference championship is only one piece, one metric of that conversation that we have."