PLAYOFF DREAMS: Stunning sequence of events a dream scenario for Penn State University
Stunning sequence of events a dream scenario for PSU
“It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone.”
What we saw in college football on Saturday was so unbelievable, so ridiculous and so spectacular that I’m more inclined to think that we actually are in the Twilight Zone as opposed to reality.
Maybe we’re in the Matrix, I don’t know. Or some Seinfeld-ian bizarro world.
Because, seriously, who can make sense of it?
The same Iowa team that looked awful in losing, 41-14, at Penn State just last week, pulled off one of the more shocking upsets I can remember with a 14-13 win at home over No. 3 Michigan. The same Michigan team that beat Penn State earlier this year, 49-10, had looked awesome all season and was favored by 24 points over the Hawkeyes.
Making matters even crazier, Pitt went down to Death Valley and beat No. 2 Clemson, 43-42. That’s a Pitt team that was 5-4 and had lost two straight games, to Virginia Tech and Miami, yet somehow won despite giving up 630 yards of offense, 580 through the air.
Washington, ranked No. 4, lost at home to USC, 26-13, meaning three of the top four teams in the country lost, which hadn’t happened since 1985.
If you don’t think we’re in the Twilight Zone, consider these two absolutely astonishing statements:
1. Penn State has an outstanding shot to reach the Big Ten championship game as the winner of the East Division, and …
2. Penn State actually has a chance to be one of the four teams selected for the College Football Playoff.
Sure, just like everyone predicted for the Nittany Lions after they fell behind at Pitt, 28-7 before losing, 42-39. And certainly like everyone expected after the 39-point drubbing at Michigan.
Here’s the relatively simple scenario that PSU fans should know:
The Nittany Lions need to beat Rutgers and Michigan State to finish 10-2. If they do, they will advance to the Big Ten championship game if one of these things happen:
n Michigan loses at home to Indiana this week, which isn’t likely, OR …
n Ohio State beats Michigan in Columbus on Nov. 26, which is a very strong possibility since the Buckeyes are likely to be favored in that home game by about a touchdown.
If Ohio State beats Michigan, the Buckeyes will finish tied with Penn State at 8-1 in the Big Ten. The Lions beat Ohio State head to head, so PSU owns the tiebreaker and would advance to the conference title game.
If Michigan beats Ohio State, then the Wolverines would win the East and reach the Big Ten championship game. They would be 8-1, just like PSU, and own the tiebreaker since they beat the Lions.
Simple enough, right?
This really could happen. Ohio State is playing lights out right now, and Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight appeared to suffer a shoulder injury late in the game at Iowa. I’m thinking the Buckeyes will beat the Wolverines by double digits.
If Ohio State does win, and PSU takes care of business, the Lions likely would face Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game.
OK, so what would happen if Penn State were to beat the Badgers. Would the Lions be selected for the College Football Playoff?
There are a ton of “what ifs.” And a lot of games to be played between now and then by a number of teams.
But here’s the $64,000 question:
Is it possible that Ohio State could be selected for the playoff even though it doesn’t win its own conference championship, while Penn State could be left out even if it does win the Big Ten title game?
The answer is yes. As crazy as it sounds, the champion of the Big Ten, the toughest conference in college football, might not make it to the Final Four, while a team that doesn’t even win its own division does make it.
All because of Pitt.
Penn State fans might cry foul if Ohio State gets in and the Lions don’t, but the bottom line is that PSU would have one more loss than the Buckeyes. Even though the Lions beat Ohio State, their extra loss to Pitt back in week two very well could carry more weight with the playoff committee than the head to head outcome.
Most expect Ohio State to jump up to No. 2 when the next CFP rankings come out Tuesday. Penn State is currently No. 10, and should jump to No. 8.
The CFP committee has the task of coming up with the four best teams in the country for the playoffs. Is Ohio State better than PSU? Despite the Lions’ head-to-head win at home, the answer here is yes, and I’m guessing the committee will see it that way also.
If the teams played again on a neutral field, Ohio State likely would be favored by a sizable margin, probably at least 8-10 points. And again, the Buckeyes have only one loss, while PSU has two.
Penn State still could make the Final Four as the Big Ten’s second entry. But the odds of that might not be good because there are still other teams (Clemson, Louisville, Washington) that have only one loss and probably will remain ranked ahead of PSU this week.
Regardless of what happens down the road with the playoff selections, the fact that we are even talking about Penn State as a possibility seems out of this world.
It’s a credit to the Nittany Lion players, to coach James Franklin, to his staff and to everyone else who has had a hand in making this one of the most remarkably unexpected seasons ever for the PSU program.
It all might seem too good to be true, but indeed it is.
Cory Giger is the host of “Sports Central” weekdays from 4 to 6 p.m. on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM.