The No. 7 Penn State Nittany Lions won their first Big Ten Championship since 2008 Saturday night against the No. 6 Wisconsin Badgers. Not only did Penn State’s victory over the Badgers pad the Nittany Lions’ win total but also their hopes of making it to the College Football Playoff.
So, should the Big Ten Champion Nittany Lions be considered for the playoff?
“I think conference championship games should carry weight. It’s another game where you’re playing the best against the best,” head coach James Franklin said. “And, again, to talk about the strength of scheduling being important, well, that obviously was another opportunity to do — that’s a very good football program we just played.”
And while Penn State started the season 2-2 with losses to the Pittsburgh Panthers and the Michigan Wolverines, the Nittany Lions have been impressive ever since.
“Let’s stop talking about 2-2 and let’s start talking about the last nine games,” Franklin said as he received the Big Ten Championship trophy.
Only two teams in all of the FBS have a better win-streak than the nine-game streak Penn State has rattled off to finish the season. Those teams are both undefeated: Western Michigan and the No. 1 team in the country, Alabama.
Along with the impressive win-streak, the victory against the Badgers gave the Nittany Lions their second win of the season against a team ranked in the top-6, the first of which was No. 2 Ohio State.
Alabama is the runaway No. 1 team for the playoff and even the Crimson Tide doesn’t have those credentials. That also goes for No. 2 Ohio State, who has Michigan as the Buckeyes’ biggest win of the season, a game played when the Wolverines were ranked third in the nation.
What about No. 3 Clemson? Nope. They lost at home to Pitt, but the Tigers’ big win was against a Louisville team that has struggled mightily to end the season. Clemson, however, was able to win the ACC Conference Championship over No. 23 Virginia Tech on Saturday.
As for No. 4 Washington? The Huskies’ non-conference schedule was a combined 12-22 this season, and it also included FCS team Portland State.
Strength of schedule should be important, right?
Along with the weak non-conference schedule, Washington’s conference schedule wasn’t helped by a weak Pac-12 this year. The Huskies lone loss came at home to USC, a team that has a current eight-game win streak, while Washington’s last two wins came against an over-achieving Washington State team that has fallen out of the top-25 and a Pac-12 conference championship victory over No. 8 Colorado that saw the Buffaloes gift wrap a pick-six.
So what about No. 5 Michigan?
The Wolverines beat Penn State when the Nittany Lions were unranked and without six starting defensive players. The biggest win for Michigan was against Colorado in Week 3 of the season when the Buffaloes weren’t ranked, either. Since pounding Maryland 59-3 in Week 10, the Wolverines have lost both games they’ve played outside the state of Michigan, losing to Iowa 14-13 and to Ohio State in double-overtime, 30-27.
It’s good that Penn State has won nine in a row, but what’s even more impressive is they manner in which the Nittany Lions have done it. Since the Michigan loss, Penn State is averaging just over 40 points per game while allowing only just over 19 points in that same time span.
While the Nittany Lions will be forced to play the hand they’re dealt by the committee, they’ve held up their end of the bargain winning the conference championship and carrying an 11-2 record into whatever bowl they get chosen for.
“What I do know is that we just won the toughest conference in college football. We’ve won nine straight. They say you are allowed to overcome minor setbacks, and we’ve done that,” Franklin said. “It’s up to you, committee.”
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