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Why Penn State Deserved the Fourth and Final Playoff Spot in 2016-2017

DaeSean Hamilton, WR, Penn State
Two years ago when Ohio State jumped Baylor and TCU to get into the first ever College Football Playoff, it seemed to set a precedent and give us an indication on what the mysterious Selection Committee was looking for. It appeared a tough non-conference schedule, conference championship victory and head-to-head were pivotal to getting into the four-team field. Now just a few seasons later, the Committee has flip-flopped on even those simple requirements. Despite winning their conference championship against a rock-solid Wisconsin team, playing a tough non-conference slate and beating Ohio State in their head-to-head, Penn State was left out while Washington and OSU both made it in.  Penn State has their imperfections like everyone, and they might not even be one of the four best teams in the nation. Even so, the Committee leaving the Nittany Lions out of the field goes back on any precedent they have set and unclear what it really takes to get into that exclusive Playoff club.

I understand the Selection Committee had a tough job ahead of them in choosing just four teams to make this year's Playoff. There were five or six teams that had legitimate cases to get into the field (if you include Michigan and Oklahoma, who should be talked about) and not many spots available assuming Alabama and Clemson were essentially locks if they won out. When looking at Ohio State, for example, their was plenty of controversy. The Buckeyes had beaten Michigan, Oklahoma on the road, along with Wisconsin and they have the talent and depth to go toe-to-toe with the cream of the crop, Alabama. But, they are missing many of the vital requirements the Committee had previously put heavy emphasis. In head-to-head they had lost to Penn State, which in turn cost them a spot in the Big Ten Championship. Although beating Michigan to end their year may be more impressive than PSU's comeback over Wisconsin, it doesn't change the fact the Buckeyes still did not win their conference. Although the Playoff is very young and there is not a huge sample size to take from, the Buckeyes have now become the only team to make the Playoff that did not win a conference title, of the now 12 teams that have qualified. By simple metrics, Penn State should then make it in over Ohio State. But, it is understandable why the Committee kept the Buckeyes in. They are a major national brand, a team stocked with superstars, and they have proven they can stop mighty Alabama in the past.

With the Buckeyes making it in, that leaves Washington. The Huskies finished off the season 11-1 and did actually win the Pac-12 Championship, in dominant fashion over eighth-ranked Colorado. Washington has looked extremely balanced and explosive, and there can certainly be an argument made that they are a Top 4 team. Much like the Buckeyes, however, they are missing at least one key requirement: the lack of a quality strength of schedule or any impressive non-conference victories. The Huskies beat a solid Utah team, rival Washington State and Colorado, but is that really the resume of a top contender? Utah went 8-4 and lost to Oregon, Washington State lost to an FCS team and while Colorado was a great story, they have some serious flaws. When compared with Penn State, with their wins over OSU and Wisconsin, both clearly Top 10 teams, it is tough to really say that metric favors UW. Also important is their non-conference record. The best team Washington beat non-conference was a terrible Rutgers team, while Penn State faced a non-conference schedule that might not have been overly impressive, but was still strong. They did lose to Pittsburgh by three, but that is the same Pitt team that beat Clemson and could have won the ACC Coastal. Penn State also beat Temple, a win that didn't look super impressive early in the year, but now appears to be quite legit. The Owls are now 10-3 and just beat Navy to secure the American Athletic Conference, and the Nittany Lions hung on to beat them. While Washington has maybe blown out more teams, it is just plain wrong to say their resume is stronger top-to-bottom than Penn State, even if the Nittany Lions have one more loss.

Based on the past Committee choices, Penn State should have a chance in the Playoff. They aren't a great team by a lot of standards, and they probably would not beat Alabama in a neutral site battle. But, they just won the best conference in college football, beat Ohio State and have a strong enough strength of schedule with plenty of quality victories. The Committee must now decide what it is really designed for? Are they choosing the best four teams in the nation, or the most deserving teams based on resume? That will need to be cleared up before the fourth season of the Playoff, or the country's most exclusive club will continue to be confusing or not understandable. Meanwhile, for Penn State they will end up in the Rose Bowl, which definitely isn't a terrible consolation prize. But, when faced with the possibility of a Playoff berth just a few years after the Sandusky scandal rocked the school to the core, would be a magical experience. However, it is not one that Nittany Lions will be enjoying this year.

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