WOGENRICH: Upsets give Penn State a new playoff reality

(Allentown) Morning Call (TNS)
  • Penn State (8-2) now has a clear path to the Big Ten title game.
  • The Nittany Lions can also make a case for entering the College Football Playoff discussion.
  • Five teams ranked ahead of Penn State lost on Saturday,

Iowa's game-winning field goal against Michigan barely cleared the goal posts before Penn State coach James Franklin raced to Twitter.

"Rutgers," he posted, 11 times, continuing his recent theme of trying to keep his team and fans blinded to the possibilities before them. The Lions visit Rutgers next Saturday night for their next step on a road that grows less winding by the week.

Penn State (8-2) now has a clear path to the Big Ten title game and, extending the argument, a case for entering the College Football Playoff discussion.

Penn State head coach James Franklin is trying to keep his players focused on the next game.

Saturday went quite well for Penn State, starting with its come-from-behind win at Indiana. The Lions rallied from a 10-point, second-half deficit for the third time this season, allowing them to enjoy the rest of the day's chaos.

Five teams ranked ahead of Penn State lost Saturday, most importantly Michigan. Iowa's 14-13 win delivered the first of two losses No. 3 Michigan needs for Penn State to have a chance for the Big Ten East title.

If Michigan loses again, say at Ohio State in two weeks, and Penn State wins its remaining two regular-season games, Penn State will represent the East in the Big Ten title game Dec. 3.

With other losses by No. 2 Clemson, No. 4 Washington, No. 8 Texas A&M and No. 9 Auburn, Penn State should be the second-highest ranked two-loss team (behind Wisconsin) in Tuesday's next release of the College Football Rankings.

That's important because, at potentially No. 8, Penn State moves into striking distance of a playoff slot with three weeks remaining in the season. The Lions also could face Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game, conceivably putting a playoff spot on the line head-to-head.

That brings us back to Franklin's weekly metronome. Penn State's offensive line situation is not conducive to a title run, considering what happened Saturday at Indiana.

The Lions lost two more starting linemen in that game due to injuries, and their playing prospects are uncertain. Tackle Paris Palmer had returned efficiently to the starting lineup, and freshman Connor McGovern had improved weekly at guard.

How Penn State absorbs those injuries (preceded by the losses of tackles Andrew Nelson and Brendan Mahon) is a critical question. The Lions likely can handle it Saturday at Rutgers, which has the Big Ten's lowest-scoring offense, but what about Michigan State?

That's a team with talent that went astray in September. The Spartans, who host Ohio State next week, might come to Beaver Stadium resigned to their season's end or willing to play spoiler.

For Penn State, 10-2 isn't guaranteed by any stretch. In fact, the team's season merely will get more interesting from here.