It’s being called Shakeup Saturday. Clemson, Michigan and Washington all suffered shocking defeats. That’s three top five teams from the most recent College Football Playoff rankings. Add losses by #8 Texas A&M and 9th-ranked Auburn, and you have complete chaos among the nation’s top ten teams.
It’s exactly what Penn State needed to have a shot, not only at a Big Ten title, but an unthinkable berth into the College Football Playoff.
Of course, the 10th-ranked Nittany Lions had to avoid their own upset on the road against Indiana, a team that has come incredibly close to securing a signature win multiple times over the last few seasons, but always comes up short. Penn State lost in Bloomington in 2013 and its last four wins at Indiana were all by one score or less.
In a gritty, gutsy and resilient effort, Penn State delivered, keeping championship dreams alive and setting-the-stage for the evening’s events to unfold.
In a 45-31 win that was much closer than the final score indicates, Penn State was far from perfect. But, impressively, the Lions overcame offensive line injuries and a defunct rushing attack to score enough points to outlast Indiana.
Trailing by ten with just over one minute to play in the third quarter, Penn State scored 31 of the game’s final 38 points to secure the victory, their sixth-straight in Big Ten play, the most consecutive conference wins since 1994.
When the dust settled late Saturday night, Penn State emerged with the best odds of any Big Ten East Division team to reach the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis.
Mathematically, Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan all have an opportunity to play in Indy.
However, if the Nittany Lions just win their last two games, at struggling Rutgers and against disappointing Michigan State, the formula is simple. All they’ll need is another Michigan loss and Penn State represents the division in the title game.
And, Penn State will likely know the importance of its final regular season contest before kickoff. The annual rivalry matchup between scarlet-hot Ohio State and one-loss Michigan is already scheduled for noon on November 26th in Columbus. Assuming all teams emerged victorious this weekend, Penn State and Michigan State will likely earn a 3:30 start.
Ohio State should enter that game favored. The Buckeyes have posted more than 60 points in back-to-back games and are playing their best football of the season. With so many teams losing this weekend, Ohio State is also likely to climb back into the top four of the playoff rankings. Both Ohio State and Michigan will be competing for their postseason lives.
In short, Penn State is very much alive for a Big Ten Championship Game appearance with an outside opportunity at reaching the College Football Playoff.
To reach the playoff, Penn State would need at least two impressive victories to close out the regular season and a convincing win in Indianapolis against likely-foe Wisconsin. Then, the committee would be forced to make a difficult decision regarding the Big Ten’s two-loss conference champion and other contenders.
Improbable, perhaps. But, no longer impossible.