Things are looking hopeful for the end of this Penn State Football season after Tuesday’s rankings sat the Nittany Lions at 10th in the nation following a tough loss against Ohio State. Penn State played this historically good OSU team better than anyone had in the nation to this point and that clearly sat well enough with the committee to keep them in the top 10.
We have all now crossed over into bowl watching season since PSU’s chance at a playoff berth is dead. That doesn’t mean that Penn State can’t compete in an elite bowl, and with the recent rankings – their chances of doing just that have increased dramatically. Being ranked ahead of Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Oregon at this point in the season are huge indicators that a New Year’s Six bowl is on the horizon.
NY6 bowl selection is a little complicated but this should help break it down. It is worth mentioning that bowl selection committees technically have their own private rankings but they have been very consistent with the CFP rankings so I am going to act like they are the same thing for the purpose of not confusing everyone.
There are 6 elite-level bowl games in College Football and they are as such: Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Sugar Bowl, and Peach Bowl. These are what is known as the New Year’s Six and outside of the playoff, the most impressive landing destination for a football team after a season is over. Two of these bowl games every year (cycling randomly) are what makes up the playoff. 1v4 in one game and 2v3 in the other. The remaining 4 games are decided by conference tie-ins or at-large bids. Conference tie-ins mean the champion of the conference or the highest ranked team in said conference that isn’t in the playoff. Here are what those games look like when they are not part of the playoff:
Rose Bowl: Best Big Ten vs Best PAC 12
Sugar Bowl: Best SEC vs Best Big 12
Orange Bowl: Best ACC vs Next Best Big 10, SEC, or Notre Dame
Peach/Cotton/Fiesta Bowl: At-Large vs. At-Large
This year the Fiesta and Peach Bowls will make up the playoff so that leaves the Rose, Sugar, Orange, and Cotton bowls to make up the remaining spots for teams to fill. The one other stipulation to remember is that the highest ranked Group of Five team (team not in a power 5 conference) gets an automatic bid to a NY6 bowl. This year the only non-conference tie-in bowl game with a possible spot for a Go5 team would be the Cotton Bowl. This leaves only one at large bid left to go to a NY6 game (the other team in the Cotton Bowl) and that would be the highest ranked team that doesn’t already have a NY6 slot.
This leaves Penn State with three different possibilities for NY6 destinations (because the Sugar Bowl has SEC and B12 tie-in’s). Disclaimer – this is all assuming PSU handles Rutgers Saturday.
Rose Bowl: For Penn State to go to this game they would need to be the B1G champion or be the highest ranked B1G team not in the playoff. The B1G Championship game is off the table so they would need to be the next highest ranked. For this to happen we would need a few games to go our way. First, Wisconsin would need to beat Minnesota and OSU would need to beat UM this Saturday. This would push UM further down in the rankings and Minnesota would drop below us. Regardless of the fact that Minnesota beat PSU head to head, the committee would still favor a 2-loss Penn State over a 2-loss Minnesota as seen when both teams had 1 loss. Wisconsin would propel ahead of PSU likely after a win at Minnesota and would head to Indianapolis to face OSU in the championship game. Here we would need OSU to beat Wisconsin, sending them back down in the rankings. If all that is the case, OSU would make the playoff and PSU would be the next best in the B1G. It is a possibility for sure, the biggest game to watch is Wisconsin v Minnesota because I expect OSU to handle their business regardless of their next two opponents.
Orange Bowl: This bowl game goes to the second highest ranked B1G, SEC, or Notre Dame vs the best ACC team. Should PSU not go to the Rose Bowl and another B1G team is ranked ahead of us, this would be the next option. This game is why being placed ahead of Florida is such a big deal. For this game to be our destination, PSU fans would be rooting for two SEC teams to make the playoff. If not, because LSU/Georgia/Bama are all ranked ahead of PSU, one of those teams would make the Orange bowl ahead of us. One would make the playoff, one the Sugar, and one the Orange. For two SEC teams to get into the playoffs we would need either Georgia to beat LSU and the committee to put both in, or for the committee to put Bama as their 4th team if LSU takes down Georgia. The issue is #6 Utah and #7 OU have a chance to win their respective conferences and could hop Bama for that 4th spot.
Cotton Bowl: If I had to take a guess, this is where I would think PSU will land. This game has one final spot for an at-large team – meaning the highest ranked team not already in a NY6 bowl game. Because we are currently ranked 10th, and don’t really have any real reason to assume we will drop below this, (Rutgers is bad) even if the Rose or Orange bowls don’t play out the way we would want them too, this would be the spot PSU would land assuming there isn’t chaos.
Chaos: Michigan beats OSU and/or Wisconsin wins the B1G and/or VA Tech beats Clemson and so on and so forth. Nothing is set in stone yet but a lot of crazy things could happen over the next two weeks that could shake things up in the rankings in a major way and send PSU to likely the Outback Bowl in Tampa. A good game, but not an elite NY6 bowl.
So, we know our bowl options and we know to root for OSU and Wisconsin next week. It is a bit of a nervous time but also exciting. There will be a much clearer vision of our bowl outlook Sunday morning but for now we can all get amped up for a crazy week of football ahead. And if you’re bored maybe check out the PSU v Rutgers game this week … should be a fun one. We Are.