Penn State seeks to get back on its CFP path
Penn State still has a lot to play for the rest of this season despite its loss last week to Minnesota.
The latest College Football Playoff rankings were released on Tuesday night, and James Franklin’s squad dropped from its No. 4 ranking as expected. PSU checked in at No. 9 behind B1G power Ohio State and P.J. Fleck’s Golden Gophers. If the season were to end today, Franklin’s crew would likely be headed to the Orange Bowl for a showdown with Wake Forest. But, of course, there is plenty of football left to be played.
And the CFP dream is not dead for PSU despite last week’s setback.
The Nittany Lions will look to bounce back from their loss to the Gophers against a really good Indiana team that comes in with just two losses. Quarterback Sean Clifford had trouble protecting the football against the Gophers, throwing three interceptions, while the previously staunch Penn State defense struggled to get any pressure on Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan, who passed for 339 yards and three touchdowns. Minnesota showed the country that it is a good football team on both sides of the ball, and Fleck’s crew was able to control the game against the Lions.
Practice likely wasn’t pretty for the Lions this week as they had to work on a lot of things ahead of their clash with the dangerous Hoosiers.
IU’s prolific passing offense behind junior quarterback Peyton Ramsey has had success all season despite the loss of starter Michael Penix Jr. Head coach Tom Allen is enjoying his best year in Bloomington as IU rides a four-game winning streak. Can Penn State’s defense cure its ills before the Hoosiers arrive in Happy Valley? Keep in mind that the Nittany Lions struggled to contain Michigan’s offense in the second half a few weeks ago and almost let that contest slip away. So it’s been a few weeks now since we have seen their stout defense.
Assuming Penn State can get past Indiana at home and Rutgers in the regular-season finale, the clash against Ohio State will be one of the conference’s games of the year. The Nittany Lions can jump right back into the College Football Playoff discussion if they can take down the team that has looked like the most complete one in the country throughout the season.
Yes, the game is in Columbus. And, yes, the Buckeyes have been dominant. But those recruiting classes that Franklin has strung together have littered this roster with top-end talent. The Lions can at least compete on the same field as the Buckeyes.
Of course, Penn State would need to find its edge again on defense. Buckeyes quarterback Justin Fields has proven that he could be deadly with both his arm and his legs, but the Badgers pressured him into a subpar outing a few weeks ago. With the Lions getting good jumps off the edges from their ends, they could possibly force Fields into mistakes. On the other side of the ball, of course, Clifford needs to get back to better protecting the football.
If Penn State wins out, which would include taking down the B1G West division winner in Indy, it will earn a spot in the CFP. The path to a B1G championship remains, and PSU’s résumé would include wins against Iowa, Michigan, Ohio State and potentially Minnesota in a rematch in Indy. Of course, Franklin’s bunch can’t overlook IU this weekend.
Penn State has seemingly become that “close but no cigar” program when it comes to the CFP. The talent is there, but throughout the years there has been a stumble that has kept the Nittany Lions out of the final top four. However, this season presents a new opportunity despite the setback in Minneapolis.
Will James Franklin’s squad be able to seize it?