WOGENRICH: Final AP poll should motivate Penn State
- Penn State finished No. 7 in the final Associated Press college football poll.
- The Nittany Lions finished behind Ohio State, despite beating the Buckeyes in the regular season.
- The Lions also finished behind Wisconsin on some ballots, despite also beating the Badgers.
The Associated Press' college football voters Tuesday gave Penn State something else to burn over in the weight room this winter.
Penn State capped its Big Ten-championship season with its highest postseason ranking in more than a decade but still finished behind Ohio State, and on some ballots Wisconsin -- teams it beat during the regular season. The Lions ranked No. 7 in the final AP Top 25 college football poll, one spot behind College Football Playoff semifinalist Ohio State and two ahead of Wisconsin.
The top-10 finish marked the first time Penn State ended a season ranked since 2009 and the team's highest postseason ranking since finishing the 2005 season at No. 3. Still, it came with some measure of undervalue.
Penn State beat Ohio State 24-21 on its way to the Big Ten championship game, where it defeated Wisconsin 38-31. The Buckeyes, who went 11-2 and were shut out by Clemson in the playoff semifinals, finished ahead of Penn State on 40 of the 61 ballots.
More confusing were the 10 voters who placed Wisconsin ahead of Penn State — including one who ranked Wisconsin sixth, five spots ahead of Penn State. While Wisconsin won its Cotton Bowl matchup against Western Michigan, the Lions fell 52-49 to USC on a last-second field goal in the Rose Bowl.
Both teams finished 11-3, with Penn State winning their head-to-head game on a neutral site for the conference title. Ultimately, Wisconsin finished ninth in the final ranking. But some of those votes might fuel Penn State's workouts this offseason.
Penn State is among four Big Ten teams ranked in the final top 10, with Michigan finishing 10th despite losing three of its last four games. The Lions return 38 of the 44 players who appeared on their two-deep for the Rose Bowl, along with a handful of injured players who started games last season. The most notable of that group are offensive tackles Andrew Nelson and Brendan Mahon.
Nine offensive starters will be back, including three freshmen linemen who started against USC. Further, Penn State's entire defensive secondary returns, along with most of its defensive line rotation and all three kicking specialists.
"If we just realize we've got a great opportunity right now and capitalize on it, keep working, you know, I think we can continue to build this thing and continue to do special things," Penn State coach James Franklin said after the Rose Bowl.
And if foreshadowing means anything, consider this: Clemson on Monday won its first national championship since the 1981 season, defeating Alabama 34-31. Penn State finished the 1981 season by playing USC in a bowl game (winning their Fiesta Bowl meeting 26-10).
The Lions won their first national title the following year.
MEET THE NEW LIONS
Four freshmen recruits enrolled early at Penn State and will be eligible for spring practice. Here's an introduction.
6-1, 200 pounds
Rankings: Rivals 4-star; ESPN/Scout/247Sports 3-star
High school: Four-year letterman and two-year captain at Grimsley High. ... Made 75 tackles and 5 sacks as a senior. ... Named first-team all-state and to the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas. ... Cousin of San Diego Chargers receiver Keenan Allen.
Other offers: Alabama, Clemson, Florida State, Michigan, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee.
5-9, 165 pounds
Rankings: Rivals/Scout/ESPN 4-star; 247Sports 3-star.
High school: Two-year letterman at Orchard Lake St. Mary's in Michigan before transferring to IMG Academy last year. ... Missed 2016 season because of a torn ACL sustained in August. ... Named first-team all-state as a junior in Michigan's Division 3.
Others offers: Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Pitt, Tennessee, Wisconsin.
6-3, 295 pounds
Rankings: ESPN 4-star; Rivals/Scout/247Sports 3-star
High school: Four-year letterman and senior captain at Stow-Munroe High. ... Suburban League offensive player of the year and first-team all-state as a senior. ... Can play center or guard.
Other offers: Boston College, Maryland, Nebraska, Northwestern, Pitt, Virginia, Wake Forest.
5-9, 190 pounds
Rankings: Rivals 5-star; ESPN/Scout/247Sports 4-star.
High school: Four-year letterman and two-year captain at Clairton High, which went 14-1 and reached PIAA Class A title game last season. ... Named Pennsylvania Class A player of the year in 2016 and first-team all-state three times. ... Returned interceptions for touchdowns in three consecutive postseason games. ... Rated as the No. 1 prospect in Pennsylvania.
Other offers: Alabama, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Pitt, Tennessee, Wisconsin.