Elton Hayes

Elton Hayes covers Penn State for CNHI properties.

Next Saturday is the moment of truth.

Does Penn State have what it takes to win the Big Ten and make the College Football Playoff, or will it just be hoping for a warm-climate bowl destination?

As we enter the final three weeks of the regular season and turn our focus to the postseason, here are some win-loss scenarios for the final three weeks that could play out for Penn State’s end-of-the-year hopes.

If Penn State beats Ohio State and Rutgers …

It’s safe to assume if Penn State defeats Ohio State in Columbus next week, it’ll do the same against the Scarlet Knights. That would be good enough for the Nittany Lions to end up in Indianapolis on Dec. 7 for the Big Ten championship. Rutgers has won just two games this season and is playing with an interim head coach in Nunzio Campanile.

Last weekend, a potential Penn State-Minnesota matchup in the title championship game appeared likely. However, after seeing the Golden Gophers’ offensive line get dominated in its 23-19 loss to Iowa this weekend, the Nittany Lions’ potential conference title opponent will now be determined by the winner of the Minnesota-Wisconsin game.

A Penn State win in the Big Ten championship game would likely send the Nittany Lions into the College Football Playoff as a No. 3 seed. They would play in either the Peach Bowl or the Fiesta Bowl, depending on where the College Football Playoff committee determines at the end of the regular season.

If Penn State loses to the Buckeyes and beats Rutgers …

Well, then, the dynamic changes.

If the Nittany Lions beat Rutgers – which is as close to a given as you can get – it will conclude the regular season with a 10-2 record and appear in line to head south for the holidays. At 10-2, the Nittany Lions could also be in contention for a New Year’s Six berth in either the Orange or Cotton bowls, but it would hinge on other teams’ failing, most notably, Florida losing to Florida State.

After Penn State’s appearance in the Citrus Bowl last year, the bowl committee would be unlikely to invite the Nittany Lions back to sunny Orlando. But another city in Florida would work just as well. The Outback Bowl has tie-ins with the Big Ten and the SEC, and it would likely pit the Nittany Lions against Auburn or Texas A&M.

 If Penn State loses to both Ohio State and Rutgers …

I know what you’re thinking, Rutgers?! You and I both know this is as likely to happen as Tom Brady announcing his retirement from the NFL tomorrow, but work with me. I’m examining every scenario here.

Should the unthinkable happen, Penn State would probably still end up in Florida … Jacksonville, that is. While it’s true the Gator Bowl is college football’s sixth-oldest bowl, it’s probably not a place teams that begin their season 8-0 dream of ending up.

Whether the season ends in Jacksonville or New Orleans, Penn State’s crafted enough of an impressive regular-season resume to be rewarded with an attractive bowl bid.

We can prognosticate and predict these scenarios all day long, but we all know everything can change once the pads collide. That’s the beauty of the game.

All eyes and attention will be trained on Ohio State’s horseshoe next Saturday.

Elton Hayes is a veteran sports writer who covers Penn State for CNHI LLC publications. Contact him at ehayes@cnhi.com or follow him on Twitter @EHDC12.

Recommended for you