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Can Penn State really make the College Football Playoff?

Coming into the 2016 college football season some contenders for making the third annual College Football Playoff (CFP) included the powerhouses of Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan and Oklahoma with the addition of some outsiders like Texas A&M and Washington. While four out of those five teams are still in the playoff hunt there have been a few surprises like Colorado and Wisconsin added to the mix. One team that no one—including most of their fans— thought of as a contender was the Penn State Nittany Lions. At the beginning of the season, ESPN analysts predicted PSU to finish the year with a record of 5-7, showing that no one not even the experts expected a 10-2 regular season, a Big Ten East Division Championship and a spot in the Big Ten Championship versus the Wisconsin Badgers.

Currently, Penn State is ranked number 7  in the latest College Football Playoff rankings, trailing Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson, Washington, Michigan, and Wisconsin. So do the Nittany Lions really have a chance to make it to the playoff? Here’s a breakdown of the scenario(s) in which Penn State could qualify among the final four teams playing for a national championship.

First, Penn State needs to win the Big Ten Championship on Saturday to have a shot in making the CFP, as that would certainly vault them ahead of their opponent, Wisconsin. Since Ohio State and Michigan are not playing in the Big Ten Championship, many people believe that if Penn State wins they should make the playoff over the Buckeyes since they won the head-to-head matchup this season.

Here are my personal predictions for Penn State’s chances to make it to the College Football Playoff.

If Penn State wins the Big Ten Championship and none of the ranked teams above them lose in their respective championship games, I believe that in this scenario Penn State will not make the CFP unless some miracle happens wherein the committee, the group of people who choose the final four teams who make the playoff, would decide to drop Ohio State from number two to number five. Such a move seems extremely unlikely, but you never know with how crazy this season has been. So this scenario is not ideal for the Lions, but there’s a chance that they make it with a win and no help from the teams ranked above them.

If Penn State wins Big Ten Championship and Washington and/or Clemson loses. This scenario would be perfect for Penn State and would probably guarantee that they make the playoff because they would jump over number six Wisconsin and either the number three or four team that lost. They would also need to jump over number five Michigan. If both Washington and Clemson lose then there is a possibility that Michigan, the winner of Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State or Colorado (who plays Washington in the Pac 12 Championship) gets in, so it would be interesting to see who the committee would choose if this scenario happens.

If Penn State Wins Big Ten Championship and Alabama loses, Penn State will not benefit at all since Alabama would have only one loss whereas Penn State has two, making it difficult for them to jump up into the number four spot. That is why almost everyone believes Alabama is a lock to make the CFP.

This weekend and the weekends to come will be crazy for Penn State fans and for fans of the top teams around the country. For those Nittany Lion fans like myself, we should be cheering for the Nittany Lions on Saturday night. However, we should also be pulling for Colorado to beat Washington and for Virginia Tech to beat Clemson in order to give Penn State the best chance to make the CFP and have a chance at the 2017 national championship.

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