— Story by Tom Belskie @TomBelskie
I was bitterly disappointed when I saw that purple W appear in the number four slot on ESPN’s College Football Playoff Selection Show a few weeks ago. It wasn’t fair. How could a team that won the best conference in college football, with a head to head win over Ohio State not be in the playoff? Surely their resume was stronger than Washington’s despite the two losses. Besides Alabama, could you really make the case anyone in the country was playing better football than Penn State? I don’t think so.
But then I cooled off, I mulled it over, thought about it for a few days. This is actually better. Don’t get me wrong, it would have be awesome to see them in CFP, truly awesome. But then reality would have set in very quickly against Alabama. This team had no shot and arguably doesn’t belong on the same football field as Alabama, but who in college football does anyway? I think Penn State would present a better “test” for Alabama than Washington because the PAC 12 is a joke (not just my opinion, they’ve backed this up with a pathetic bowl season thus far), but that’s an issue for another day.
This is a young team, a great and exciting one, but young and inexperienced all the same. Look at what happened to Michigan State last year against Alabama and look where they are now. For a program on the rise, such as Penn State, they would have nothing to gain from being throttled on national television by the Crimson Tide.
The matchup with USC is a true measuring stick game for this program. USC finds itself on a very similar trajectory to PSU. Both teams haven’t lost since the end of September and many national pundits believe that if either of these teams had just one less loss on their resume, they’d be in the CFP. Aside from the CFP games, this is easily the best bowl matchup of the season.
If Penn State can roll into Pasadena and win what is essentially a home game for USC, they can quietly and definitely say ‘I told you so’ without having to utter the words. After Washington gets demolished and if Penn State wins this game, the CFP committee will know without a doubt that they got it wrong and everyone else will too.
With virtually their entire starting lineup (on both sides of the ball) returning for next season and the coaching staff (seemingly) remaining intact, the Nittany Lions could roll into next season with a ton of momentum and possibly a top five preseason ranking. That would set them up for a run at another Big Ten Conference Title and quite possibly, the National Championship. None of that happens if they make the playoff and get crushed by Alabama. This is the best possible scenario.