With four spots in the College Football Playoff up for grabs once again this season, will this be the year Penn State finally breaks into the playoff mix for the first time in program history? Well, no. It probably will not be.
Penn State has been a part of the College Football Playoff conversation in recent years, but the Nittany Lions have yet to make a push from simply being on the radar to a serious candidate in the final weeks of the season. But because o the recent track record, even with the 2020 season being what it was, it is easy to include Penn State in any list of teams that could potentially soon make their College Football Playoff debut.
Erick Smith of USA TODAY is including the Nittany Lions in his list of eight potential candidates to play in their first College Football Playoff during the 2021 season. Penn State is joined by Iowa State, Texas A&M, Cincinnati, Florida, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and USC. The Nittany Lions will open the 2021 season against Wisconsin, giving us our first potential playoff elimination game right off the bat.
As Smith notes, there are a lot of things to like about Penn State this season. If things start off well, Penn State should quickly move up the rankings and begin to make their push into the playoff conversation as a result.
Here’s what Smith had to say about Penn State;
It’s easy to overreact to last year’s results if you look at them without consideration of the season being played during a pandemic. The Nittany Lions saw All-American linebacker Micah Parsons opt out and their best offensive player – running back Journey Brown – forced to retire before the season. A controversial loss to Indiana in the opener was followed by a respectable defeat to Ohio State that seemed to sap the life out of a team that had playoff aspirations.
Penn State limped out to a program worst 0-5 record before ending the season on a four-game winning streak. Of course, it is fair to argue Penn State’s back half of the schedule was easier than the first half. But the first half o the schedule also included games against Maryland and Nebraska, games that Penn State was expected to win.
But, as Smith notes, Penn State has the talent it needs to win a bunch of games this fall on offense and defense.
More from Smith on Penn State;
Sean Clifford becomes the key after the junior quarterback was benched midway through the year. His rebound helped lead the late-season resurgence. A stable of running backs and wide receivers is as good as any in the Big Ten with Noah Cain and Jahan Dotson the respective leaders. The defense took a step back in 2020, though young players got the experience that should pay dividends. The biggest addition could be Temple transfer Arnold Ebiketie, who brings the potential of an elite pass rusher that’s needed.
It would take a lot for Penn State to crash the playoff party this season, but the schedule allows them opportunities to shine. Road games against Wisconsin and Iowa are difficult challenges but each could be a top 25 team when the game is played. Penn State will get Indiana at home, along with Auburn and Michigan. The biggest hurdle will be a road game at Ohio State, and the Buckeyes have had Penn State’s number over the years.
But if Penn State can get off to a good start this fall, get ready to hear some playoff talk around Happy Valley, even if it is a little far-fetched in 2021.
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