The Case Against Penn State in The College Football Playoff

By: Thomas Frank Carr



That’s what plenty of Penn State fans are thinking right now as they wake up early this week and see that Penn State won, moved on to the Big 10 Championship game,  yet didn’t budge an inch in the AP Poll.

There seems to be a ceiling this year for the Penn State Nittany Lions. Fans better brace for the fact that even if Penn State does complete their magical season and  win vs Wisconsin this Saturday, the may miss out on the College football playoff.


Precedent and Strength of Schedule

Right now Penn State has a single win against a top 25 team. They beat Ohio State is one of the two most shocking upsets of the year. It single-handedly vaulted them back into national polls and the College Football Playoff picture.

Since then Penn State has not played a ranked team.

It doesn’t matter how many ways you try and slice it, their schedule to end the year was soft. It’s part of the reason that this team has been on its unprecedented run. Accepting this fact should in no way diminish what the Lions have been able to do this year. Head Coach James Franklin and his team have brought Penn State out of the ashes and back into the spotlight. They’ve done so with an incredible amount of hardship in the form of injuries as well. They have passed every test since October, no matter what was thrown their way. They should be commended for that.

That commendation does not necessarily include a playoff spot though.

Work up as many defenses of their schedule as you like. I have heard them all. They beat Iowa handily, who beat Michigan. They beat Indiana and Michigan State, who despite their record took Ohio State and Michigan to the wire in their games this season. Point to how strong the Big 10 is and how Penn State is playing for the championship of what is arguably the best conference in the country. To a point, I agree with all of those arguments. It doesn’t change the fact that Penn State has played two top 25 teams this year, and is 1-1 in those games.

Why Washington is The Problem

Saying that Washington hasn’t played anyone on their schedule is throwing stones in a glass house.

Washington is 11-1 heading into their conference Championship vs 9th ranked Colorado. This year they have wins over then ranked 7th Stanford, 17th ranked Utah, and 23rd ranked Washington State (last week). To say they don’t’ have a strong schedule is east coast bias at its best. Penn State’s record looks slightly better now that Iowa and Pitt have climbed into the top 25, but neither team was ranked when they played.

How much does all of that factor in? Who really knows?  We’re dealing with human opinion when it comes to the college football playoffs. All we can do is look at the facts and make a judgement.

On that note, we don’t have to look too hard for a 10 win, conference champion who was left out of the College Football Playoff. The 2015 Stanford Cardinal team fits that bill exactly.

The Stanford Standard

Stanford had two ‘bad’ losses last year to Northwestern in the first game of the year, and then to an up-and-down Oregon team that finished the year 8-4. Yet they had wins over ranked USC, UCLA, Notre Dame and beat USC in the Pac 12 championship game.  Stanford even had a dynamic, headline stealing tailback in Christian McCaffrey.  Yet, they were left out of the College football playoff in favor of one loss Oklahoma.

Oklahoma beat more top 25 teams and had fewer losses. It’s that simple.

It also means that the Pac 12 was left out of the College Football Playoff last year despite having an excellent candidate. Would the committee snub a power five conference two years in a row and put two Big 10 teams in the playoff, despite having a statistically better candidate in Washington? It seems highly unlikely.

It’s not Penn State’s fault that Iowa didn’t live up to expectations this year, or that they didn’t get to play Nebraska or Wisconsin this year. The fact remains that Penn State is the most untested candidate in the top 10 and won’t get the benefit of the doubt. Which is unfortunate because as of now, they’re the most balanced team in the Big 10.

This is all academic at this point, however. Penn State still needs to beat Wisconsin on Saturday.

After that we can complain about how unfair all of this is.