Penn State made a big move in Tuesday’s College Football Rankings, climbing six spots to No. 14 to become a contender for a New Year’s 6 bowl game.
The Lions conclude the regular season with winnable games against Rutgers and Maryland that should get its record to 9-3. If so, the team’s bowl window will narrow to a few Florida destinations and a New Year’s 6 opportunity.
Does that mean the Rose Bowl still is in play? It’s possible.
Here’s our breakdown of Penn State’s best bowl bets.
►WHEN: 1 p.m. Jan. 1
►WHERE: Camping World Stadium, Orlando, Fla.
Penn State hasn’t played in Orlando since capping the 2009 season with a 19-17 win over LSU. That layoff, and a top-20 ranking at 9-3, would make Penn State an attractive team for the Big Ten’s top contract bowl outside the selection-committee games.
In this scenario, Penn State lands in the Citrus Bowl if Michigan and Ohio State earn bids to the College Football Playoff or New Year’s 6 games. Michigan is a playoff lock as the Big Ten champ, while Ohio State (at 10-2) would go to the Rose Bowl as the Big Ten replacement.
It’s unlikely that Northwestern, with at least five losses if it falls to Michigan in the Big Ten title game, would be awarded the Citrus Bowl over Penn State.
THE NEW YEAR'S 6 POSSIBILITY
►WHEN: 12 p.m. Dec. 29
►WHERE: Mercedez-Benz Stadium, Atlanta
►OPPONENT: Selection committee at-large team
With a 9-3 record, Penn State would contend for an at-large spot in a New Year’s 6 bowl, depending on its position in the final College Football Playoff rankings.
Since the CFP began in 2014, two at-large teams with 9-3 records have played in NY6 games: Mississippi in 2014 and USC (against Penn State in the Rose Bowl) in 2016.
The common denominator: Both were No. 9 in the final rankings. The lowest-ranked at-large team to play in a NY6 bowl was No. 11 Washington, which Penn State defeated in the 2017 Fiesta Bowl. The Huskies were 10-2.
Penn State took a step toward NY6 contention by moving up this week to No. 14, ahead of Texas but behind Florida among three-loss teams. Penn State likely would need to be at least No. 12 to have a chance.
If eligible, Penn State would be an enticing team for the Peach Bowl, where it has never played. The CFP committee, which determines the at-large matchups in conjunction with the bowls, probably wouldn’t send Penn State to the Fiesta Bowl for a second consecutive year.
THE "WHAT-IF" GAME
►WHEN: 12 p.m. Jan. 1
►WHERE: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla.
Penn State could be headed to Tampa if it loses one of its last two games (a disappointing prospect) or if Northwestern uproots the process by winning the Big Ten title game.