Let’s get right to it this morning, because obviously, we’re entering a big weekend that will ultimately determine who gets picked to go where on Sunday afternoon.

The final rankings before the conference title games will take a little bit of predicting and a little bit of educated guessing, because we only have a few certainties:

  1. If Clemson wins the ACC, and Oklahoma wins the Big 12, and Wisconsin wins the Big Ten and Auburn wins the SEC, this is very, very simple: They all go to the playoff.
  2. If Miami or TCU or Georgia — or, especially, Ohio State — win, there is complete chaos.

Since this is a Penn State blog, though, let’s start with what we know about the Nittany Lions.

They aren’t playing this weekend, which is their own damn fault, and that hurts their chances to finish in the top four. Are those chances dead? Well, they were on life support last week, and I’d say they’re  just about breathless now.

But, is it an impossibility? Eh…

They would need Wisconsin to beat Ohio State, and Clemson to beat Miami. They would need Georgia to obliterate Auburn. And, they would need TCU to embarrass Oklahoma. If any of that happens, maybe — and it’s a far-fetched maybe, at that — the committee thinks, “Gee, we have to take the ACC champ, We have to take Wisconsin. We have to take Georgia. But do we take Alabama, which just lost to the team (rather convincingly) that lost the SEC title game? Do we take Miami, which has just lost two in a row heading into the tournament? Do we still take Oklahoma, which has lost twice, and has just been stunningly beaten? Do we really take TCU instead, because to do so, we have to bump them up from No. 11 in our rankings, to No. 4? Maybe, Penn State’s strong finish and close loss at Ohio State and that loss in the rain in Michigan State don’t seem that bad anymore.”

So, yeah…A LOT has to happen. And it won’t.

That said, Penn State is going to be in the New Year’s six bowl projections, unless the College Football Playoff committee completely reverses the stance it has taken on the Nittany Lions in recent weeks. Fact of the matter is, you can make an argument that the above scenario might hurt Penn State, if all of that happens and the committee decides to put Alabama or Oklahoma in. Then, TCU moves ahead, and maybe Miami stays there, and TCU moves up and…you just never know with Ohio State. But as unlikely a scenario as it is that Penn State makes a playoff semifinal, it’s just as unlikely that they fall out of the top 10.

So, here are this week’s bowl projections:

CFP No. 1

Sugar Bowl

CFP No. 4


Jan. 1
8:45 p.m.


Analysis: The way it turns out, the big story on my predictions list comes out first. I don’t really believe that, if Ohio State beats Wisconsin, it will automatically jump ahead of Alabama.

Listen, people: Losses have to matter. They have to be considered. They can’t just look at, “Well, who did you beat yesterday? What was your schedule like?” You have to consider the schedule has nuances.

Alabama beat Florida State at a time when just about everyone figured Florida State would be a top contender. But guess what: The Seminoles lost quarterback Deondre Francois for the season in that game, and Alabama really gets punished for that team kind of collapsing without its best player. But, when they had that player, Florida State couldn’t beat Alabama.

Alabama beat Fresno State from pillar to post, and Fresno turned out to be pretty good. The Tide beat A&M and Mississippi State and LSU, and no, none of those are season-defining wins. And yes, Ohio State has wins over Penn State and Michigan State, and it has a chance to beat Wisconsin on Saturday. But if Ohio State pulls out the Big Ten Championship Game, the committee would have to do what it did last season, and judge a one-loss team that didn’t win a conference title and a two-loss team that did. And that two loss conference champion has a really nasty loss on its schedule, just like last year. And last season, the one-loss team that didn’t win the conference title got in, and the two-loss conference champion went home.

I’m just not sure Ohio State can have this both ways. Not when the other team is Alabama.

CFP No. 2

Rose Bowl

CFP No. 3


Jan. 1
5 p.m.


Analysis: Oklahoma can be the No. 1 seed, and should be, if it beats TCU for the Big 12 title and Clemson loses to Miami, which probably puts them against Alabama or in a rematch with an Ohio State team they already throttled in Columbus.


Cotton Bowl


Penn State

Dec. 29
8:30 p.m.

Texas Christian

Analysis: The bottom line with Penn State is that it can probably go anywhere. If it winds up ranked No. 5, it goes to the Orange. If Stanford beats USC this weekend, it can go to the Fiesta Bowl. If the committee wants to shake things up and send Alabama out west to take on USC in the Fiesta, Penn State can go to the Peach Bowl. The Nittany Lions are in a good position to go just about anywhere, because they have national appeal and no real close-to-home ties with any bowl at the same time.

They still look best for the Cotton Bowl in my scenario, though. And fans will rue the day that Notre Dame couldn’t handle Stanford, because that looked like a prime bowl matchup. Instead, the Horned Frogs outlast Washington for that final spot.


Fiesta Bowl


Southern California

Dec. 30
4 p.m.


Analysis:This matchup is a good bet if the Trojans win the Pac-12 and the Badgers fall to Ohio State. If the top four in the final regular season CFP poll all win, this becomes the bowl with the most different possibilities. Ohio State seemingly goes here every year, and the committee would like to avoid that, if it has a chance. Penn State played USC in the Rose Bowl in January, and the committee also likes to avoid rematches.

It will be fascinating to see how the Fiesta shakes out if there are no upsets this weekend. Could wind up with the SEC title game loser out here, just to avoid repeat appearances and matchups.

ACC Champ/Replacement

Orange Bowl

Highest ranked Big Ten/SEC nonchamp/Notre Dame

Miami (Fla.)

Dec. 30
8 p.m.

Ohio State

Analysis: Seems a certainty that the loser of the ACC title game will be the highest-ranked ACC team and thus head here. So, that’s Miami’s spot. The highest-ranked team of those left, from the SEC or Big Ten, also goes to the Orange. Since there is no automatic bid to the Rose Bowl this year for the Big Ten champ, the Buckeyes could fall in here if Alabama is selected ahead of them.


Peach Bowl



Jan. 1. 2017
12:30 p.m.

Central Florida

Analysis:The committee will want a more regional matchup for the non-Power 5 rep, which will be either the Golden Knights or Memphis, and this is probably the best locale for either. Georgia obviously will be a good draw in their home state. But if the chaos surrounds the Fiesta, this could also get interesting.