Can QB Trace McSorley (right) lead Penn State to a third consecutive New Year’s Six bowl? The next two weeks will determine the Nittany Lions’ fate. ASSOCIATED PRESS PHOTO

We’re getting to that point in the season, which somehow seems like it started just yesterday, where we can start guessing — with a good bit of data to base our opinions on — where teams might end up once bowls are announced in early December. We know the possibilities. We know the current records. We know which way the selection committee is leaning. We have two games left, and we know what might happen from here.

It’s just a matter of putting it all together.

Now, that’s never as easy as it might seem, and as far as Penn State is concerned, there isn’t much consensus. There is some thought Penn State could make a return to the Citrus Bowl for the first time since the 2009 season. There’s even someone thinking they can head back to the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville, with Trace McSorley ending his Nittany Lions career essentially where it started, as disappointing as many fans might find that destination. If you don’t like that, two prognosticators at ESPN think the Nittany Lions could force their way back to Arizona for a second consecutive Fiesta Bowl.

Bottom line is, everything is fluid. Penn State can still make a third consecutive trip to a New Year’s Six bowl, or it can go out West for a late-night kickoff a couple days after Christmas. We’ll know more next week at this time. We’ll know even more the following week. Just the way it goes.

But for now, lets take a look at how things are likely to go, until the annual chaos sets in and changes everything for Big Ten teams.

#4 CFP

Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic

#1 CFP

Michigan

Dec. 29
Arlington, Tex.

Alabama

Sure, there’s still a little thing called The Game that needs to be played in two weeks, and Michigan has to get by rival Ohio State on Nov. 24 to secure this bid. But if Michigan doesn’t beat Ohio State this year, it might never get there. And hey, there’s still a chance that the Wolverines winning out and beating the Buckeyes might not get them here. If Georgia beats Alabama in the SEC Championship Game — an extreme longshot for sure — the committee might be tempted to put the Bulldogs in and knock the Wolverines out. Clemson should win out against Duke, South Carolina and Pitt in the ACC title game to seal one of the four CFP spots, and Notre Dame will be favored against Syracuse this weekend at Yankee Stadium and USC next weekend at the Coliseum to finish unbeaten with a win over Michigan. If the Irish go unbeaten, they deserve to go. But Michigan looks a lot like the Big Ten’s best team, and it seems illogical to believe the Big Ten champ will be held out of the playoff for a third consecutive year.

CFP AT-LARGE

Rose Bowl

CFP AT-LARGE

Ohio State

Jan. 1, 2019
Pasadena, Ca.

Washington State

The ultimate irony in the Big Ten this year is that a one-loss Ohio State team might be able to keep the conference out of the College Football Playoff. It’s not wholly inconceivable that the Buckeyes can beat Michigan, in Columbus, next weekend, finish the regular season 11-1 and get a Northwestern team in the Big Ten Championship Game that might be the weakest Big Ten West champion ever. It does, however, seem wholly inconceivable that Ohio State can climb from No. 10 in the rankings to the top four even if it does all of that. The Cougars have had a great season in a bad conference, and they have a tough opponent remaining, in the regular-season finale against Washington. But it shouldn’t matter. Even a loss will get them to the Rose.

Big Ten

Citrus Bowl

SEC

Penn State

Jan. 1, 2019
Orlando, Fla.

Kentucky

The reality with Penn State is that it’s close — very close — to going somewhere a whole lot bigger than the Citrus Bowl, as strong a bowl as the Citrus would be for the program at this point in its rebuild.

Penn State fans always travel well and support the team. But lets face it, a matchup with Kentucky in central Florida after the playoff games have already started and after back-to-back seasons that ended in trips to New Year’s Six bowls isn’t exactly going to move the needle like the Rose Bowl did.

There is, however, plenty of intrigue for Penn State these last two weeks of the season. Assuming the Nittany Lions win their final two games — and they’ll be heavily favored to do so on the road Saturday against Rutgers and at home next weekend against Maryland — they’ll finish the regular season 9-3, and they’re currently stationed at No. 14 in this week’s College Football Playoff rankings. That means, they’re on the outside looking in. But, they aren’t that far on the outside.

It’s a simple deal for Penn State: Win out, and hope enough craziness happens to lift it into the top 12 by the time the final standings are released Dec. 2. They’d have to be in the top 11 if Central Florida, currently No. 11, loses a regular season game, because the committee is required to take the top-ranked champion from a non-Power 5 conference. (Out of the Mountain West, Utah State is also ranked No. 23, for what it’s worth.)

Said craziness typically happens in college football. It’s just that it isn’t easy to predict it. But, from a purely Penn State perspective, here’s a look at what could happen to help the Lions get into the New Year’s Six conversation again, and who Nittany Lions fans probably should be rooting for over the next three weeks:

  • Penn State needs to root for Notre Dame.There’s an obvious spot for the Nittany Lions to gain, and soon: If the Fighting Irish beat No. 12 Syracuse on Saturday, the Nittany Lions will most certainly move ahead of the Orange.
  • Penn State needs Northwestern to not win the Big Ten Championship. As odious as this might seem to Nittany Lions fans, they have to hope either Michigan or Ohio State wins the Big Ten title game. They won’t surpass a two-loss Buckeyes or Wolverines team, but Northwestern would head to the Rose as the conference champion, and there’s almost no chance four teams from the same conference will get a NY6 berth.
  • Penn State needs to root against West Virginia. This is the one team currently in the Top 12 that may, possibly lose more than once. The Mountaineers play Oklahoma State this weekend, and while the Cowboys have lost four of five, they beat Texas in that stretch and scored 47 last week against Oklahoma. They can score with anybody, but then again, so can West Virginia. The Mountaineers then have Oklahoma to end the season.
  • Penn State needs a big regular-season upset. If Rice or Texas A&M beat LSU, it would give the Tigers three losses and may drive them below the Nittany Lions. That might be a longshot, though. Where the Lions could really gain ground is if Florida State can upset Florida, but that seems fairly unlikely at this point

Big Ten

Outback Bowl

SEC

Michigan State

Jan. 1, 2019
Tampa, Fla.

Texas A&M

 

Big Ten

Holiday Bowl

Pac-12

Northwestern

Dec. 31
San Diego, Ca.

Utah

 

Big Ten

TaxSlayer Bowl

SEC

Purdue

Dec. 31
Jcaksonville, Fla.

Missouri

 

Big Ten

Pinstripe Bowl

SEC

Wisconsin

Dec. 27
Bronx, NY

Virginia

 

Big Ten

RedBox Bowl

Pac-12

Iowa

Dec, 31
Santa Clara, Ca.

Arizona State

 

Big Ten

Quick Lane Bowl

SEC

Indiana

Dec. 26
Detroit, Mich.

Georgia Tech