Why I'm higher on Penn State's Playoff chances than most probably are after the Minnesota loss
It was a hit, but it wasn’t a lethal hit.
If you read the headline, you can guess that I’m talking about Penn State’s Playoff chances in relation to how Saturday’s loss to Minnesota impacted them.
They’re alive, and dare I say in the wake of the Lions’ first blemish of the season, they still have a better chance than I think the average person realizes.
Why? A few reasons.
No, it doesn’t have anything to do with FPI. Thankfully.
The path is now clearer than ever. Penn State has to win out to make the Playoff. It’s pretty simple. That’ll be the case regardless of where the Lions are ranked the rest of the regular season.
Saturday was a loss to give, and not a death sentence loss because the path to a B1G Championship is still there. The résumé would be strong enough as a 1-loss Power 5 champ because the Lions could have as many as 4 wins against teams who are expected to be in the Top 25 at season’s end (Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio State).
I realize those last 2 wins are hypothetical. Penn State won’t get another crack at the Gophers in the B1G Championship unless it can roll into Columbus and knock off the Buckeyes. As dominant as Ohio State has been, there are 2 things that are giving me pause to pencil that in as an automatic win.
Let’s start with the big news in college football late last week. The suspension of Chase Young was an out-of-nowhere development. The game-changing defensive end’s status is unknown at the moment. If he’s not available against Penn State, that would be game-changing in its own right.
Everybody knows what a force Young is, and after the Wisconsin game, he picked up serious Heisman Trophy buzz. The guy had 4 sacks and 2 forced fumbles in what turned out to be a defensive performance for the ages.
— Ohio State on BTN (@OhioStateOnBTN) October 28, 2019
What does the Wisconsin-Ohio State game look like without Young? I don’t know, but I know it’s not 38-7.
While the Buckeyes are obviously extremely talented defensively sans Young, I don’t know how they would respond to playing without the superstar against a legitimate foe. Sorry Maryland and Rutgers, but neither of those matchups will reveal how much the Buckeyes miss Young. They’d have to figure that out against Penn State.
Young’s performance against Wisconsin covered up the fact that Justin Fields had his worst showing of the year. He wasn’t bad necessarily, but completing 12 of 22 passes for 167 yards and 2 touchdowns was a far cry from what we’ve grown accustomed to seeing in Ryan Day’s offense. Fields was also held to 28 rushing yards on 13 attempts and he was sacked 5 times.
Wisconsin has been tremendous pressuring the quarterback this year. You know who’s just as good — if not better — in that department? Penn State. And I’d argue the Lions have more speed off the edges to keep Fields from springing loose. The knock against Fields is that he holds onto the ball too long. You can’t do that against Penn State.
Good field position combined with the Buckeyes’ ground game bailed out the inefficient passing day against the Badgers. Will Ohio State be able to run the ball like they’re used to against Penn State? Even after the loss, the Lions have an FBS-low 2.12 yards allowed per rush. Micah Parsons and Cameron Brown are everywhere. With their season on the line, I’d expect that to be the case against Ohio State, too.
Is that my way of saying that the Buckeyes are due for a stumble? No, but considering how unbeatable they’ve looked for most of the year, Penn State actually does a lot of things that could give them problems, especially if Young is inactive.
And while I don’t necessarily think it’s fair to toss out the stunning Urban Meyer regular season stumbles (Michigan State with a backup QB in 2015, Iowa in 2017 and Purdue in 2018) because it’s a different coaching staff, I’ll say this. We’re in Year 6 of the Playoff era, and we have yet to see a Power 5 team with a 9-game conference schedule run the table and win the conference championship.
Ohio State AND Minnesota are trying to do that. Who could prevent that from happening? Penn State.
If the Lions do get past Ohio State and set themselves up with a rematch against Minnesota in the B1G Championship, my guess is that the Lions would be favored at a neutral site. That’s assuming there wouldn’t be injuries to someone like Sean Clifford, KJ Hamler, Parsons, etc. If the stuff with Young reminded us of anything, it’s that these things can change in a hurry.
Young’s suspension opened the door a bit for Penn State. There’s no question about that. Minnesota definitely pushed Penn State’s Playoff door in the wrong direction. There’s no question about that, either.
But heading into mid-November, the door is cracked open more than people think.