Penn State begins this weekend needing a win at Michigan State to rebound from a punch to the gut a week ago at Ohio State. With the College Football Playoff rankings now unveiled, the path to the playoff is ready to be cleared. But Penn State is in a position where they not only need to win their remaining games; they may need some help along the way from around the country.
So if you want to start doing the scoreboard watching, here is what you will be rooting for this weekend in college football, starting in the Big Ten as we attempt to see if a return to trip to Indianapolis can still be possible. In theory, it still is. In reality, it may not be likely. BUT YOU JUST NEVER KNOW!
NO. 24 MICHIGAN STATE (6-2, 4-1 BIG TEN) VS. NO. 7 PENN STATE (7-1, 4-1 BIG TEN)
You know the drill. Michigan State. Michigan State. Michigan State. The bottom line here is simple. Penn State cannot afford a second loss, so winning on the road against the Spartans is essential this week. And, if possible, rough up Michigan State enough for a good comfortable win that will make the selection committee take notice. No slow starts and a big performance from Saquon Barkley would be nice to see, but the Spartans have played well defensively this season and will also be looking to rebound from a tough loss last week. And they’re at home.
A win against Michigan State does a few things. For starters, it removes a current top 25 team from the playoff rankings, meaning No. 3 Notre Dame loses a top 25 win. It also sets the stage for what to root for next week; unranked Michigan State upsetting No. 6 Ohio State in Ohio Stadium.
IOWA (5-3, 2-3 BIG TEN) VS. NO. 6 OHIO STATE (7-1, 5-1 BIG TEN)
For the playoff hunt, Ohio State winning out may not be a terrible thing for Penn State if enough things happen in November. There is a reason why both the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions are still projected to be in the playoff by some experts out there, right? But if you want to see Penn State win the Big Ten, Ohio State has to lose twice. Urban Meyer may have successfully talked his way out of a night game at Kinnick Stadium, and Iowa is going to need a perfect game to pull it off. But crazy things happen in Kinnick Stadium in November. And Big Ten title or not, an Iowa win gives Ohio State a second loss and HEY YOU REMEMBER HOW THAT WORKED OUT LAST YEAR! (I know, slightly different circumstances, but still, Penn State moves up in the ranking with a win and an Ohio State loss)
Other rooting interests in the Big Ten this week
It would be beneficial for Penn State if Michigan can work their way back into the top 25 with a win against Minnesota. So, go Michigan. Other Big Ten teams to pull for to help out the strength of schedule are Maryland (4-4, at Rutgers) and Nebraska (4-4, vs. Northwestern). You want those teams to be above .500 when Penn State plays them this month. You can pull for Indiana if you wish, but it may better to have Wisconsin roll into the Big Ten championship game at 12-0 in case Penn State wiggles its way back to Indy. But if the Big Ten championship game falls out of the picture, hand those Badgers a loss and improve that quality of the win over Indiana and knock Wisconsin off the radar.
TEXAS A&M (5-3, 3-2 SEC) VS. NO. 14 AUBURN (6-2, 4-1 SEC)
Go with the Aggies here to knock Auburn down a peg. That way, if a three-loss Auburn without their best running back pulls an upset of Georgia, it’s a more damaging loss for the Bulldogs. You have to think long-term here!
NO. 1 GEORGIA (8-0, 5-0 SEC) VS. SOUTH CAROLINA (6-2, 4-2 SEC)
Or just have the Bulldogs take a loss this weekend and watch them fall next week. A loss at home to South Carolina is far more damaging than a one-point road loss at Ohio State. Of course, Georgia still has that win over Notre Dame in their pocket. But you can hope for Alabama to do the rest of the damage in the SEC Championship Game later.
NO. 3 NOTRE DAME (7-1) VS. WAKE FOREST (5-3)
One more loss for Notre Dame likely removes the Irish from contention, and Wake Forest has been playing with some confidence lately. However, the Demon Deacons are on the road without their best wide receiver. This will be tough, but you obviously know to root for Wake Forest here.
NO. 20 NC STATE (6-2, 4-0 ACC) VS. NO. 4 CLEMSON (7-1, 5-1 ACC)
This is probably the biggest game of the weekend for Penn State fans doing some scoreboard watching. No. 4 Clemson has a road loss at Syracuse and a second loss would very likely drop them behind a pack of one-loss teams. NC State did not look great against Notre Dame, but the Wolfpack have a lot riding on this game and could pose a serious threat to Clemson here. Root for NC State and have little fear of a two-loss NC State team leapfrogging Penn State if things work out.
NO. 10 MIAMI (7-0, 5-0 ACC) VS. NO. 13 VIRGINA TECH (7-1, 3-1 ACC)
Both the Hurricanes and Hokies are trailing Penn State by a few spots in the ranking, but they are worth keeping a close eye on. Pick your poison here because an undefeated or one-loss ACC champion is going to be difficult to pass with a hopeful 11-1 season at worst. We’ll go with Miami to knock Virginia Tech to the two-loss column and hope that things work out in upcoming weeks to take care of Miami.
WEST VIRGINA (5-3, 3-2 BIG 12) VS. NO. 15 IOWA STATE (6-2, 4-1 BIG 12)
The rise of Iowa State has been the saving grace for Oklahoma. Had Iowa State been 2-6 instead of 6-2, the Sooners may not be ahead of both Ohio State and Penn State even with a road win at Ohio State. So the sooner Iowa State can be taken down, the better for a number of reasons. Although, it would be fun to see Iowa State keep Oklahoma out of the Big 12 championship game. We’ll go with the Mountaineers here though.
N0. 11 OKLAHOMA STATE (7-1, 4-1 BIG 12) VS. NO. 5 OKLAHOMA (7-1, 4-1 BIG 12)
The Sooners are sitting in front of Penn State (and Ohio State), so the easy pick here is to root for the Cowboys at home. That comes with a possible hurdle in itself though, as Oklahoma State could potentially jump ahead of the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions with a win. But Oklahoma State still has to play at Iowa State next week (and I can’t believe I just said that and meant it), so pull for Oklahoma State this week, then Iowa State next week. A two-loss Big 12 champion has a tougher path to the playoff than a one-loss Penn State.
NO. 8 TCU (8-1, 4-1 BIG 12) VS. TEXAS (4-4, 3-2 BIG 12)
The Horned Frogs are lingering just behind Penn State, but the Longhorns can take care of TCU this weekend if it can manage to win a big game for the first time under Tom Herman. As I just mentioned, a two-loss Big 12 champion has an incredibly tough path to get to the playoff. Handing TCU a second loss this weekend would be harmful to the Horned Frogs and the entire Big 12.
NO. 2 ALABAMA (8-0, 5-0 SEC) VS. NO. 19 LSU (6-2, 3-1 SEC)
We can probably count on one team from the SEC making the playoff, so Alabama winning out may not be too catastrophic. But you want chaos, and Alabama going down at home against LSU would be quite chaotic. Go Tigers.
So there you go. In brief, who is who you should be rooting for this weekend:
- Penn State (duh)
- South Carolina
- Wake Forest
- NC State
- West Virginia
- Oklahoma State
- Miami (yes, seriously)