Big Ten win­ner no lock for play­off

Nit­tany Lions would own vic­to­ries over Ohio State, Badgers

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Eric Ol­son

En­ter­ing the sea­son, who would have thought the eighth-ranked Nit­tany Lions would have thrown a wrench into the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off hy­po­thet­i­cals?

Penn State was picked fourth in the Big Ten East in the pre­sea­son and 2-2 af­ter an ugly loss at Michi­gan, prompt­ing the ath­letic di­rec­tor to is­sue a pub­lic vote of con­fi­dence for third-year coach James Franklin.

Two months later, who would have thought the eighth-ranked Nit­tany Lions would have thrown a wrench into the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off hy­po­thet­i­cals by earn­ing a berth in the Big Ten cham­pi­onship game op­po­site No. 6 Wis­con­sin?

Things would have been so much sim­pler if Ohio State hadn’t lost to the Lions on the road Oct. 22.

A win in In­di­anapo­lis on Satur­day night would give the Lions (10-2, No. 7 CFP) two vic­to­ries over top10 teams to weigh against their losses to Pittsburgh and Michi­gan. Imag­ine the out­rage in Happy Val­ley if the Lions beat the Badgers and, as a con­fer­ence cham­pion, were ex­cluded from the group of four teams to play for the na­tional cham­pi­onship. It could hap­pen.

The Buck­eyes (11-1, No. 2 CFP) would be at the mercy of the com­mit­tee if Penn State wins, but the chair­man al­ready has said Ohio State has the bet­ter re­sume.

If Wis­con­sin (10-2, No. 6 CFP) wins, the com­mit­tee could log­i­cally pick Ohio State based on its over­time win over the Badgers in Madi­son on Oct. 15. If that hap­pens, the city known as “Mad­town” would surely be that.

Five things to know head­ing into the Big Ten title game: OLD VS. NEW >> This will be the sixth Big Ten title game, and Wis­con­sin is in it for the fourth time. Penn State is mak­ing its first ap­pear­ance and go­ing for its first cham­pi­onship since 2008.

The Badgers are 2-1 in In­di­anapo­lis, beat­ing Michi­gan State 42-39 in 2011 and Ne­braska 70-31 in 2012 and los­ing to Ohio State 59-0 in 2014.

Wis­con­sin is 9-8 all-time against Penn State. This will be the first meet­ing since Nov. 30, 2013, when Penn State won 31-24 in a wild game in Madi­son. THE BARKLEY FAC­TOR >> Penn State star run­ning back Saquon Barkley’s sta­tus is un­known af­ter he in­jured his right foot against Michi­gan State on Satur­day.

Barkley av­er­ages 101.6 yards a game to rank third in the Big Ten. He was held to 14 yards on 12 car­ries in the 45-12 win over the Spar­tans.

The Lions re­ally could use him against the na­tion’s No. 3 rush­ing de­fense. If he can’t play, An­dre Robin­son, Mark Allen and Miles San­ders will split car­ries. FRANKLIN’S JOUR­NEY >> Penn State lost four straight to end 2015 and got off to a 2-2 start this sea­son with those losses of 42-39 to Pittsburgh and 49-10 to Michi­gan. A few days af­ter the loss in Ann Ar­bor, ath­letic di­rec­tor Sandy Bar­bour pledged al­le­giance to Franklin, say­ing his job was not in jeop­ardy.

De­spite a run of in­juries that hit the line­backer corps es­pe­cially hard and left the Lions with­out seven starters, Penn State turned into one of the hottest teams in the na­tion.

Line­backer Ja­son Cabinda said he and his team­mates never ruled out a chance to play in Indy.

“We talked about it all last sea­son. That this was our goal and this is where we wanted to go, so we put our head down and went to work,” Cabinda said. “Ev­ery week we have im­proved and got­ten bet­ter and now we have a tremen­dous op­por­tu­nity to go In­di­anapo­lis next week and fin­ish this thing and get a Big Ten cham­pi­onship.” BADGER DOM­I­NANCE >> Wis­con­sin and Alabama are the only Power Five pro­grams to reach con­fer­ence title games four times since 2011. The Badgers have won at least 10 games six of the last eight years and are 17-3 in their last 20 games. They’re 15-3 against Big Ten West teams since the con­fer­ence went to the cur­rent di­vi­sions in 2014. IT’S ABOUT DE­FENSE >> Wis­con­sin and Penn State rank Nos. 3 and 4 in to­tal de­fense in the Big Ten, with the Badgers al­low­ing 292 yards a game and the Lions 346.

No one has been run­ning much against ei­ther team lately. Only five op­po­nents have run for 100 yards against the Badgers. Penn State has al­lowed no more than 110 yards on the ground in any of its last five games.


Penn State’s Ma­lik Golden (6) hoists the Big Ten East divi­sion tro­phy af­ter de­feat­ing Michi­gan State 45-12 in an NCAA col­lege foot­ball game in State Col­lege, Pa., Satur­day.

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