PSU No. 7 in CFP

PATRICK WAKSMUNSKI/For The Sun-Gazette
Penn State is coming off a 39-38 loss to Ohio State.

PATRICK WAKSMUNSKI/For The Sun-Gazette Penn State is coming off a 39-38 loss to Ohio State.

Penn State faces long odds of making the four-team College Football Playoff after coming in at No. 7 in the initial rankings released Tuesday night.

The Nit­tany Li­ons were ranked No. 2 in the AP and coaches polls and had a clear path to the playoff had they held on to a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter Saturday at Ohio State. But they blew the lead, lost, 39-38, and now seemingly need a lot of help in order to get into the top four.

Geor­gia is No. 1 in the in­itial CFP rankings, followed by Alaba­ma, No­tre Dame and Clem­son to round out the top four. Oklahoma is fifth, then Ohio State, Penn State, TCU, Wisconsin and Miami closing out the top 10.

The sports statistics website FiveThirtyEight.com gave PSU just a 13 percent chance of making the playoff following the announcement of Tuesday’s rankings.

“The best thing that Penn State can do is blow people out … by 40 or 50 points if they can,” ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit said on the rankings show.

Doing so, he added, might impress the committee enough to think that the Lions are indeed a top four team.

“In my mind, that’s really their only hope at this point,” Herbstreit said.

One of the big issues hurting Penn State’s cause is its lack of a marquee win. The Lions played a weak non-conference schedule — Akron, Pitt and Georgia State — and do not have a victory over a team currently ranked in the top 25.

All of that would have changed had PSU won at Ohio State and still been undefeated. But that one-point loss could be all that it takes to keep the Lions out.

“Penn State has been and continues to be an impressive team,” CFP committee chairman Kirby Hocutt said on a conference call Tuesday night. “The selection committee has talked about how impressed we’ve been with them, especially at the running back and the quarterback position.”

Hocutt also said, “(We’re) very well aware of how that (Ohio State) game transpired, how both teams competed, and that will continue to be a component of their resume as the season moves along.”

There are many moving parts left with key games involving teams in the playoff hunt. Things that could help the Lions include:

• A Georgia loss to Au­burn, because the Bulldogs could still get in if they lose to Alabama in the SEC title game

• A Notre Dame loss to Stanford or Miami, coupled with Miami also losing to Virginia Tech

• An Oklahoma loss to Oklahoma State

• A Clemson loss to N.C. State or Miami/Virginia Tech in ACC title game-winning

The Lions had a slew of things fall their way late last year in order to win the Big Ten East and ultimately the conference, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility that there’s still a path for them to get into the playoff.

Addressing issues

James Franklin answered many questions Tuesday about trouble spots for the Lions on Saturday, most involving the offense/running game/playcalling.

Franklin wound up repeatedly defending PSU’s offensive scheme and pointed out numerous times that the team has been very successful and scored a lot of points going back to last year.

For instance, when he was asked about running back Saquon Barkley perhaps getting the ball in a stand-still position too often, the coach pointed to past success.

“We’re doing it very similar to what we’ve done it for the last two years with one of the most explosive offenses in the country,” Franklin said. “We actually sped it up a little bit this offseason. We’re doing it exactly the way we’ve done it with one of the most explosive offenses in the country for the last two years.

“This is the style that we’ve been playing. This is how we’ve been doing it. We’ve had negative-yardage plays for two years. Can we get better in this area? Yes. We’ve had one of the most explosive offenses in the country, again. For a little bit of perspective, in the last 18 games, we’ve been 16-2. In the last 16 games, we were 14-2. We’ve lost those two games by four points with one of the most explosive offenses in the country.”

Keeping track, Franklin said the “most explosive offenses in the country” phrase four times during that reply alone.

Offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead has received a good bit of criticism for his playcalling Saturday, with many believing it to be too conservative given than the Lions kept trying to run with very little success.

“Joe Moorhead is one of the better playcallers in college football,” Franklin said. “We’ve been very successful. I don’t want anybody to think what I’m saying up here is questioning how we handled that situation at the end of the game, because I’m not.

“Again, it’s easy to second guess after the fact. We were not protecting at that point well or running the ball at that point well against their defensive line.”

Franklin said the offense changed its identity in a four-minute situation late in the game trying to protect a lead.

“One of the things that is a challenging deal,” he said, “is when you run this style of offense that we run, where we probably are a pass-to-run team, we’re going to throw the ball to create running situations.

“(So) when you get into four-minute offense, the football book, the game management book from the beginning of time, as you run the ball, you eat the clock up, make them use their timeouts, throw the ball, incomplete, the clock stops, not the scenario you want to be in. The reality is when you run this style of offense, you can’t try to become something else in four-minute.”

Player-only meeting

The Lions held a player-only meeting Sunday, organized by Barkley, quarterback Trace McSorley and linebacker Jason Cabinda.

“We just felt like there were some of the just things we had to kind of get off our chest. Making sure the mentality of the team was the same, we were still taking the same approach,” Cabinda said. “Knowing there’s a ton still left for — a ton of football left, a lot still left to be accomplished. Kind of just reiterating those things.”

Franklin said, “It was not a long meeting at all. The feedback I got, it was really good. Some things I think they just wanted to get off their chest.

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