Penn State Ranked No. 4 In First College Football Playoff Rankings Of The Season

Penn State’s schedule over the past three games has been a gauntlet. 

The Nittany Lions remain unbeaten after navigating through a tricky primetime win at Iowa, holding off Michigan in the White Out and exercising some demons with a 28-7 win at Michigan State. 

While further tests await, including this weekend’s clash with surprise unbeaten Minnesota and a showdown at “The Horseshoe” with Ohio State, Penn State is right in the thick of the College Football Playoff race through eight games. 

On Tuesday, the College Football Playoff committee revealed its first Top-25 of the season, with Coach James Franklin’s team checking in at No. 4. 

This marks the first time the program has been ranked inside the top four of the College Football Playoff rankings at any point.

Penn State trails No. 1 Ohio State, No. 2 LSU and No. 3 Alabama at the top of the rankings, but edged the defending national champs Clemson at No. 5 and Georgia at No. 6.

This weekend’s opponent, the Golden Gophers, appeared at No 17. Other Big Ten companions Wisconsin (13), Michigan (14) and Iowa (18) were all also ranked. 

You can see the full rankings at the bottom of this story. 

A berth in the College Football Playoff for Penn State could hinge on the Nov. 23 matchup in Columbus against the Buckeyes. The winner of that game will almost certainly win the Big Ten East Division and earn a trip to the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis. 

Win the Big Ten title game and Penn State is essentially a lock to make the Playoff as an unbeaten conference champion. 

Still, a path does exist for the loser of the Penn State-Ohio State game to still find its way into the committee’s final four. 

In the Nittany Lions’ case — with wins over the likes of the Wolverines, Hawkeyes, Pitt (Yes, the Panthers have been solid since their loss to Penn State in September), and potentially Minnesota and Indiana  — their final resume as a one-loss team is going to be just as strong as any other contending team at the end of the season.

Penn State would obviously need some help in that scenario, namely needing the likes of Georgia, Oregon, Utah and Oklahoma to lose again between now and the final selection show on Dec. 8.

There’s plenty of football to be played. And all of that being said, my focus is on Minnesota, Minnesota, Minnesota, Minnesota, Minnesota, Minnesota.

I’m just eager to see Penn State go 1-0 this week.

We Are! 

— Vincent Lungaro ’18

Full Rankings 

1. Ohio State

2. LSU

3. Alabama

4. Penn State

5. Clemson

6. Georgia

7. Oregon

8. Utah

9. Oklahoma

10. Florida

11. Auburn

12. Baylor 

13. Wisconsin

14. Michigan

15. Notre Dame

16. Kansas State

17.  Minnesota

18. Iowa

19.  Wake Forest

20. Cincinnati

21. Memphis

22. Boise State

23. Oklahoma State

24. Navy

25. SMU

Nittany Lion Look Back (And Ahead)

Michigan/Michigan State

Penn State is 7-0. It hasn’t been always perfect in those seven wins, especially on offense, but the record speaks for itself. 

The Nittany Lions passed their biggest test yet, holding off Michigan 28-21 in front of the fourth-largest crowd in Beaver Stadium history. 

To get to 8-0, Penn State will have to beat a Michigan State team that has dashed its College Football Playoff hopes in each of the past two seasons. 

As always in this series, let’s take a quick look back at Penn State’s White Out triumph over the Wolverines before looking ahead to another crucial encounter with the Spartans in East Lansing.

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Looking Back

Star of The Game: KJ Hamler 

Hamler is Penn State’s most important player on offense, and on Saturday he demonstrated why. The redshirt sophomore tormented the Michigan defense with six catches for 108 yards and two touchdowns. He also had a 100-yard kick return touchdown called back for holding at the start of the third quarter. 

A 53-yard touchdown from Sean Clifford to Hamler to put Penn State up by 14 with 13 minutes to go was made possible by the latter’s ability to burn past the Wolverines’ secondary. Hamler iced the game late in the fourth quarter with a tough three-yard run for a first down, taking a hit to the helmet in the process. Where would this offense be without him? 

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Moment of Magic: The defense’s goal line stand

On the Wolverines’ final possession of the game, it looked like the Penn State defense (on the field for 82 total snaps on the night) had lost all its steam. Michigan marched to the red zone with less than four minutes to go, looking to tie the game at 28. 

Having held for the first three downs, Penn State’s defense got the final stop it needed on fourth down, when safety Lamont Wade did just enough in coverage to force a drop from Ronnie Bell in the end zone. The White Out crowd exploded. The scoring threat was over. The defense had made its stand.

Looking Ahead

Michigan State controls the series

The battle for The Land Grant Trophy has been pretty one-sided as of late. Michigan State has won five of the past six matchups with Penn State, including heartbreaking losses for the Nittany each of the past two seasons. 

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Blowout losses for Sparty 

The 2019 season hasn’t gone to plan for Sparty. Michigan State began the year ranked No. 18 in the country, but a woeful offense has seen the Spartans drop its three toughest games so far. 

In Week 3, Mark Dantonio’s team dropped an ugly 10-7 decision at home to Arizona State. Then, a 34-10 loss in Columbus to Ohio State was followed by a 38-0 beatdown at the hands of Wisconsin. 

Brian Lewerke’s late heroics 

In 2017, Lewerke drove the Michigan State offense down the field for a game-winning field goal, dashing Penn State’s hopes for a potential College Football Playoff berth. 

A year later in Beaver Stadium he led the Spartans on an eight-play, 76-yard touchdown drive to pull ahead 21-17 with 19 seconds left on the clock. The drive was capped off with his 25-yard touchdown pass to Felton Davis. 

He will be looking to make it three wins from three against Penn State on Saturday.

Penn State Preview: Iowa

Each week throughout the 2019 season, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye on, and where and when you can catch the Nittany Lions on fall Saturdays. 

Game details: No. 10/9 Penn State @ No 17/18 Iowa, 7:30 p.m., broadcast on ABC

Venue: Kinnick Stadium 

Weather forecast (via AccuWeather): Kick-off temperature of 49 degrees, mostly clear skies. 

The line: Penn State – 3.5 

Last week: Penn State won its Homecoming matchup against Purdue, 35-7. Iowa lost a defensive struggle at Michigan, 10-3. 

All-time series: Penn State leads 16-12. Penn State has won five consecutive meetings. 

Last meeting (2018): Penn State held off Iowa in a cold, sloppy afternoon game in which Trace McSorley gutted out an injury he suffered in the second quarter. A timely interception at the goal line by Nick Scott, and a late fourth-quarter stand helped the Nittany Lions hold of the Hawkeyes, 30-24.

Throwback classic (2007): Having suffered five-straight losses in the series, Penn State won comfortably 27-7 on Oct. 6, 2007. The win marked just the second time in seven meetings that Joe Paterno had gotten the better of Kirk Ferentz. The Hawkeyes went on to win the next three meetings. 

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Overview: Two of the best defenses in the Big Ten will go head to head at Kinnick. Penn State is the fourth-ranked total defense in the country, while Iowa is fifth-best. This game will probably come down to which offense can make the most big plays. The Hawkeyes were dreadful against Michigan, while Penn State has scored 94 points combined in its first two Big Ten games. That being said, Iowa’s defense will be a much more difficult test for Sean Clifford and the Nittany Lions’ offense than the Maryland and Purdue defenses were. 

Penn State wins if: The Nittany Lions defense can bottle up the Hawkeyes run game. Penn State’s front seven has feasted through five games, leading the nation in sacks and tackles-for-loss, albeit all against unranked teams. Iowa is going to want to win this game by running the football and controlling the clock. If the Nittany Lions bottle up the Hawkeyes rushing attack and get after Nate Stanley, who was flustered by a blitz-heavy scheme from the Wolverines a week ago, they can walk out of Kinnick victorious. 

Iowa wins if: It can limit Penn State’s big-play ability. The Nittany Lions offense thrives on chunk plays. Getting the ball down field and in space to the likes of KJ Hamler, Jahan Dotson, and others is what makes this offense tick. As good as the Hawkeyes defense has been, they’ve only registered seven team sacks this season. Led by defensive end AJ Epensa, Iowa is going to have to get after Clifford and limit the time he has to find his big weapons. 

Count On: A close game. The history of this matchup will tell you, these two teams usually play a close game, especially when they play at Kinnick Stadium. Penn State isn’t going to blowout Iowa the way it did Maryland and Purdue. It’s going to be another tight contest with a handful of key plays deciding the outcome of the game. 

Keep an eye on: Noah Cain. The freshman had a breakout performance against Purdue a week ago with 105 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries. Penn State is going to continue its running back committee approach, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they lean on the physical running style of Cain a little bit more this week. 

Trivia tidbit: As consistent of winners as Penn State and Iowa have been over the years, both programs only have one Heisman trophy winners to their names. John Cappelletti is Penn State’s lone winner, securing the award in 1973. Nile Kinnick, the namesake of Iowa’s stadium, won the Heisman in 1939. 

Predictions

John Patishnock: Penn State 31,  Iowa 21

Vincent Lungaro: Penn State 27, Iowa 17

From The Archives: Penn State V. Iowa (2007)

When Penn State hosted Iowa in Week 6 of the 2007 season, it was looking to stop two separate losing streaks.

The Nittany Lions were coming off of two-straight losses to open up their Big Ten campaign. Penn State had also not beaten the Hawkeyes in its last five tries, including an ugly 6-4 home loss in the previous meeting between the two teams in 2004. 

The 2007 matchup proved to be a near-perfect streak-stopper for coach Joe Paterno’s Nittany Lions. 

“With the vociferous support of 108,951 fans — the largest crowd to watch a football game that Saturday — the struggling Lions were resuscitated with a 27-7 victory over the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Big Ten opener in Happy Valley,” John Black noted in The Football Letter

Paterno noted that his quarterback Anthony Morelli, still under heavy outside criticism for his turnover-plagued performance against Michigan two weeks prior, threw the ball with more confidence against the Hawkeyes. 

Morelli connected with Derrick Williams on a 24-yard touchdown to put Penn State up 10-0 at the 1:08 mark of the second quarter. 

After a three-and-out by Iowa, Morelli led the Lions down the field in quick fashion and set up a 53-yard field goal from Kevin Kelly as time expired in the first half. 

An 81-yard touchdown drive that ended with a Rodney Kinlaw score in the third quarter chewed up over five minutes on the game clock and extended the Nittany Lion lead to 20-0. 

The two teams traded fourth-quarter touchdowns and Penn State sealed a comfortable 27-7 win that seemed to rejuvenate the team a bit.

The Nittany Lions went on two win their next two contests and five of their final seven overall, including the 24-17 success over Texas A&M in the Alamo Bowl. 

The win over the Hawkeyes also marked just the second time that Paterno had defeated Kirk Ferentz in a head-to-head meeting at the time. 

It also proved to be Penn State’s last win in the series until 2011, when a run of three-successive Hawkeye wins was halted by a 13-3 victory by the Nittany Lions.

Central Iowa Chapter Eager to Welcome Penn Staters To Its Neck Of The Woods

What the Central Iowa Chapter of the Alumni Association might lack in numbers, it makes up for in Penn State pride. 

Herb Meier a 1973 Penn State graduate, has been with the chapter since its beginning.  

Meier came out to Iowa for work, having taken a job with the IRS. He held the role as the chapter’s treasurer for a number of years before finally taking over the presidency. 

Based in Des Moines, the chapter covers all of Central Iowa, making it a bit difficult to get all Penn Staters living in that area together often for events. 

That hasn’t stopped the chapter’s activity levels, though. Meier said the chapter has about 25 paid members, all of whom are extremely dedicated. 

The group hosts Penn State football watch parties, and also looks to attend sporting events when other Penn State teams are in the area.

Back in August, members of the group made the trip to Ames, Iowa, to watch the women’s volleyball team take on the Iowa State Cyclones for the Cyclone Invitational —  a 3-0 win for the Nittany Lions.

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

“It was a real treat for us, because we don’t get to see them too often,” Meier said laughing.

Other events include an annual ice cream social, a summer picnic, and a winter party that’s held at the local botanical center.  

Meier and other chapter members also participate in volunteer activities a few times each year. 

“We’ve gone to a local wildlife sanctuary, it’s called the Neal Smith Wildlife Reserve,” Meier said. “We’ve gone down there and done some work packaging meals and they send them all across the country and all across the world to help feed people.” 

This weekend, Meier and the rest of the Central Iowa Chapter will host the Friday Night Mixer at the Backpocket Brewery and Tap Room ahead of the Penn State football game at Iowa 

Meier is excited for the chapter to connect with Penn Staters traveling into the state for the game. 

“It’s pretty special. We get to make a lot of connections and meet some other people from different chapters,” Meier said. “It’s good to connect with the Alumni Association and the representatives there. We email back and forth with them, but it’s always nice to see and talk with them face to face. We get to see the Blue Band, the Nittany Lion and the cheerleaders. It’s great. It’s special for us.”

It’s also a good opportunity to raise some funds to keep the chapter running and to support the chapter’s scholarship fund. 

“We’ve been really trying to grow (our scholarship fund),” Meier said. “It’s difficult because we don’t have a large base, but this will really help with that.” 

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Most Penn State fans probably don’t see Penn State vs. Iowa as too big of a rivalry, but because they live in “enemy territory,” members of the Central Iowa Chapter do see matchups between the Nittany Lions and Hawkeyes as a bit of a rivalry. 

“The 2017 game, you talk about a wild game (Penn State won on a last-second touchdown),” Meier said. 

“They’ve had some pretty good games over the years. I know people back east don’t consider it a rivalry, but us out here, we kind of see it somewhat as a rivalry. We’ve had some really good games and they’ve beat us in an upset a couple of times. To us, it’s a special game.”

To learn more about the Central Iowa Chapter, visit their website, email them psuiowa@gmail.com, or follow them on Facebook

The Central Iowa Chapter is one of nearly 300 Penn State Alumni Association affiliate groups worldwide. Visit alumni.psu.edu/groups to connect with Penn Staters in your area.

Nittany Lion Look Back (And Ahead)

Purdue/Iowa

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

I expected Penn State’s defense to be good this season, I’m not sure I expected them to be THIS good. 

Purdue — albeit without its best player in Rondale Moore and senior quarterback Elijah Sindelar — couldn’t get anything going in Saturday’s 35-7 win for Penn State. Backup quarterback Jack Plummer was under duress all day long, with the Nittany Lions collecting 10 sacks. The Boilermakers mustered a measly 104 yards of total offense. 

In Penn State’s first two conference games, the defense has given up just seven points. The highest total it’s surrendered this season was in the Week 2 win over Buffalo (13 points). 

With the meat of the Big Ten schedule ahead of it, Penn State knows it has one of the elite defenses in the conference to count on.

Looking Back

Star of The Game: DE Shaka Toney

I was going to start off this section by saying Shaka Toney was basically unblockable against the Boilermakers. But there’s no “basically” about it. He was unblockable. Toney was in the backfield repeatedly, using speed and quickness to burn Purdue’s offensive line. He tallied three sacks and helped the Nittany Lions record their most sacks in a conference game since 2007. He and Yetur Gross-Matos give Penn State a terrific tandem of starting pass rushers. 

Moment of Magic: Dotson sprints 72 yards to the end zone

With the Nittany Lions on top 14-0, wideout Jahan Dotson blew the game wide open on Penn State’s third possession of the game. He corralled a pass from over the middle, juked one Purdue defender before speeding ahead down the left hand side of the field. A key block by KJ Hamler at the 10-yard-line cleared the path to the end zone and Dotson scored his third touchdown of the season to put the home side up three scores. 

Looking Ahead

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Hawkeyes offensive falters

Facing a Michigan team that got gashed on the ground just a few weeks ago by Wisconsin, Iowa’s offense produced just one rushing yard on 30 carries in Saturday’s 10-3 loss in Ann Arbor. That’s the fewest yards the Hawkeyes have managed on the ground since 2011. Up next? A date with Penn State’s dominant front seven. 

Stanley’s turnovers

Quarterback Nate Stanley returned for his senior season in Iowa City with a lot of expectations, with some even regarding him as an NFL prospect. Stanley was efficient, if unspectacular through Iowa’s first four games, but fell flat against the Wolverines. He threw for 260 yards, but was also picked off three times and sacked eight times. He has to be better against Penn State for Iowa to have a chance at the upset.

Primetime at Kinnick

Penn State doesn’t have the best track record in primetime games at Kinnick Stadium, but then again neither do a lot of top-ranked teams. I’m not even going to get into the 2008 heartbreaking loss for a then-undefeated Penn State squad. It’s still too soon. 

In recent years, the Hawkeyes have managed to pull off some incredible upsets at home, including wins over Ohio State in 2017 and Michigan in 2016. The Nittany Lions, thanks to a gutsy last-second connection from Trace McSorley to Juwan Johnson, won at the death under the lights of Kinnick in 2017.

Nittany Lion Look Back (And Ahead)

Maryland/Purdue

No. 12 Penn State’s 59-0 demolition of Maryland on Friday night was one of the more complete games the Nittany Lions have put together in the James Franklin era. After the poor first half against Buffalo and the narrow victory over Pitt in Week 3, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous heading into this one. 

Almost immediately, sitting in the sea of white shirts on one half of Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium, my worries disappeared. Right from the opening possession, it was clear the Nittany Lions were locked in for this one as Jan Johnson intercepted Terps quarterback Josh Jackson to set up a Penn State scoring drive. 

It only got worse from there for the home faithful, with a large chunk of them heading for the exits halfway through the second quarter. A boisterous student section that taunted Penn State players and fans early on in the game all but disappeared before halftime, heading back out to the College Park night. 

In the last three meetings between the two programs Penn State has outscored Maryland 163-6. Yikes!  

Looking Back

Star of The Game: QB Sean Clifford

After struggling against Pitt, Clifford rebounded for his best performance of the season on Friday, going 26-of-31 with 398 yards and three touchdowns. He added another 54 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Clifford completed his first nine passes of the game, setting up the offense for a needed fast start to quiet the Maryland crowd. He looked in control and comfortable in the pocket all night, so credit to Penn State’s offensive line as well. If Clifford performs at that level consistently for the rest of the season, Penn State can beat every team left on its schedule. 

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Moment of Magic: WR KJ Hamler’s House Call 

With Penn State up 7-0 and facing a third-and-nine near midfield, the Terrapins were close to swinging a bit of momentum back in their favor at the 9:48 mark of the first quarter. Then KJ Hamler happened. The premier playmaker on the Nittany Lions’ offense snagged Clifford’s pass over the middle and evaded two tacklers to gain the first down. He wasn’t done, though, keeping his balance before sprinting to the right side of the field. A hapless Maryland defensive back tried to cut off Hamler’s angle to the end zone but instead was juked two or three times by Hamler before falling to the turf. KJ eased into the end zone from there and Penn State was rolling up 14-0. There aren’t many players more electric with the ball in their hands in college football than KJ Hamler.

Looking Ahead

Boiler Down

It’s safe to say things haven’t gone according to plan for Jeff Brohm and Purdue this season. After reaching bowl games in each of the past two seasons, many expected the Boilermakers to be in the hunt for a potential Big Ten West division title in 2019. Instead, they’re off to a 1-3 start, with losses to Nevada (who just lost by 51 to Hawaii), TCU and Minnesota.   

Two Key Injuries  

Purdue lost star wideout Rondale Moore and quarterback Elijah Sindelar on the same play in Saturday’s loss to the Golden Gophers. Neither will play in this week’s matchup with Penn State. That’s bad news for Purdue with the Nittany Lions defense playing well right now.  

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Up Steps Plummer

Sindelar’s injury means redshirt freshman quarterback Jack Plummer is likely to get the start at Beaver Stadium for Purdue. Playing in relief of a concussed Sindelar, Plummer had an up and down showing in the Week 3 loss to TCU, going 13-of-29 for 181 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. It was more of the same against Minnesota once Sindelar went down with a broken clavicle. Plummer tossed for 245 yards and two touchdowns on 41 attempts, but threw two more interceptions.