CFP berth preferable, even if it means ’Bama
There’s a ridiculous notion that’s been debated in some circles over the past week that goes like this: Would you rather see Penn State get to the College Football Playoff and be crushed by Alabama, or go to the Rose Bowl and have a real chance to win?
It’s the dumbest question I’ve ever heard in sports.
Neil and I are debating what is PSU’s best bowl scenario, and I will say unequivocally it is going to the CFP, regardless of what might end up happening.
Even if Alabama destroys the Nittany Lions by 30 points, which might be the case, the chance to compete for a national title against the best of the best is absolutely the preferred scenario. One billion percent of the time.
I just don’t understand how anyone could take the defeatist, let’s-not-even-try position of wishing for a more winnable game over the incredible, historic, they-write-books-about-this-kind-of-stuff achievement of a team coming out of nowhere the way Penn State has just to get to the CFP.
Now, I will certainly agree that if things don’t go PSU’s way this weekend and the path to a CFP berth is blocked, then absolutely, a chance to play in the Rose Bowl would be terrific. No one would have guessed two months ago that the Rose Bowl would even be a possibility for this team, so to finish 10-2 and get to Pasadena would be a marvelous accomplishment.
In that scenario, PSU will have beaten Michigan State, and Michigan will have beaten Ohio State, denying the Lions a chance to play in the Big Ten title game and essentially killing their CFP hopes. Also in that scenario, the Lions will have taken care of their own business with an eighth consecutive win and could take pride that they did everything in their power to make a run at the CFP.
The Rose Bowl would be the greatest fall-back option ever.
But let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that path is in any way more appealing than PSU winning, Michigan losing and the Lions getting a crack at Wisconsin next week for the Big Ten title and potential CFP berth.
This season has been fantastic, and it has fans everywhere wondering how good PSU can be for years to come.
But here’s the trouble with looking ahead: There is no guarantee Penn State will be anywhere close to this position again for many years. We like to think it will, but:
What if offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead leaves to take a head coaching job elsewhere? Or defensive coordinator Brent Pry? Both are possibilities in the next year or two, and there could be a dropoff with their replacement(s).
What if, God forbid, Saquon Barkley or Trace McSorley gets hurt next season?
The Lions play in Columbus next year. And play Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State in three consecutive weeks. That brutal stretch alone could knock them out of playoff contention.
The bottom line is the Lions have a golden opportunity over the next two weeks to achieve something incredible.
If they don’t do it and wind up in the Rose Bowl, they’ll still have a chance at a great finish and memorable year. But even then they would always find themselves wondering what might have happened if they had gotten a shot to play Alabama.
Cory Giger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org