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It’s do or die for Penn State this Saturday vs. Michigan

The Penn State Nittany Lions take on the Michigan Wolverines this Saturday afternoon at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pa.

The Nittany Lions are 8-1 and ranked ninth in the current AP poll and 10th in the current BCS standings, while Michigan is 9-0 and ranked second in the latest AP poll and third in the latest BSC standings.

It’s going to be epic. It’s going to be emotional. It going to be do or die…at least for Penn State. You see, the Nittany Lions can’t afford another loss after they fell to undefeated Ohio State, currently third in the latest AP poll and first in the current BSC rankings, on October 21.

Penn State resides in the East Division of the Big Ten Conference, same as both the Buckeyes and Wolverines. A Nittany Lions loss to Michigan on Saturday afternoon would obviously give them two within their conference and within their division, while the Wolverines would remain undefeated. The Buckeyes would also remain undefeated if they vanquish Michigan State at Ohio Stadium on Saturday evening. These outcomes would all but pave the way for an epic showdown between Ohio State and Michigan–The Game–at Michigan Stadium on November 25.

If both teams go into the day undefeated, the winner would clinch a spot in the Big Ten title game and also make a huge downpayment on earning one of the four seeds in college football’s annual four-team national championship playoff.

Penn State could prevent that with a huge win on Saturday afternoon in Happy Valley. OK, it wouldn’t prevent it–at least not the epic showdown–but it would at least put itself back in the conversation for the Big Ten title and even the college football playoff. If the Nittany Lions do prevail on Saturday (Michigan is favored by 6.5), they would then have to hope that the Wolverines get up off the mat and defeat their top rival two weeks later. This would set up a three-way tie in the Big Ten East (assuming all three teams finish at 11-1). The conference would have to go all the way down to its fifth tiebreaker to decide things. What is the Big Ten’s fifth tiebreaker? I did some research, and it apparently involves the overall records of non-divisional opponents–or teams from the Big Ten West. Where would Penn State stand under that scenario? Who knows at this point, but it would be in the program’s best interest to force a writer like me–all college football writers–to figure out the math at season’s end.

A loss to the Wolverines would put that fifth tiebreaker to bed.

Again, a win wouldn’t guarantee the Nittany Lions anything. They’d still have to root for Michigan to defeat the Buckeyes in order to make that three-way tie possible at the end. Even if Ohio State loses only once in the conference, and that loss isn’t at the hands of the Wolverines, Penn State would still be on the outside due to the head-to-head tiebreaker (that’s much easier to understand than the conference’s fifth tiebreaker).

Could the Nittany Lions earn some love and votes as an at-large entrant in the four-team playoff? Florida State and Georgia are still undefeated. If the Seminoles, who have already clinched a spot in the ACC title game, win their conference, they’re likely in. Even if the Bulldogs don’t win the SEC championship, the victor–presumably either Alabama (8-1) or Ole Miss (8-1)–would almost surely earn a spot.

Ohio State, Florida State and the winner of the SEC. And if the Bulldogs, the defending two-time national champions, only lose one game, and it just happens to be in the conference final? I wouldn’t be surprised if Georgia earns the last bid in the four-team playoff. Heck, what about Washington (9-0) and Oregon (8-1)?

It’s going to be tough for the Nittany Lions no matter what happens this Saturday afternoon at Beaver Stadium.

But a win would at least keep the lights on.

As for a loss? Is Saturday’s game a whiteout? If so, those students in attendance would have to use their attire as white flags and surrender to yet another season short of a national title.


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