How Penn State's loss to Minnesota impacts Big Ten, College Football Playoff picture

Sporting News

No. 13 Minnesota upset No. 5 Penn State 31-26 on Saturday, which will have ripple effects across the Big Ten conference.

Third-year coach P.J. Fleck led the Gophers to what could be a program-changing victory at home. Tanner Morgan (18 of 20, 339 yards, three touchdowns) led the way, and Jordan Howden came up with the game-clinching interception in the final minute. Minnesota (9-0, 6-0 Big Ten) should move up the College Football Playoff rankings as a result.

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Here is how the Gophers' upset alters the Big Ten and Playoff races:

Minnesota runs the Big Ten West

The Gophers took control of the Big Ten West race heading into a season-ending stretch against No. 18 Iowa, Northwestern and No. 16 Wisconsin. Minnesota has a two-game lead on the Hawkeyes and Badgers, so they can still lose a game and get to Indianapolis.

Minnesota will likely have to go undefeated to reach the Playoff, given its strength of schedule and low ranking at No. 13, but perhaps this is that out-of-this-world team that can catch lightning in November.

Ohio State-Penn State takes a hit

It's unavoidable now that Penn State (8-1, 5-1) has a loss. The Nittany Lions could advance to 9-1 after next week's game against Indiana, but the Nov. 23 showdown at No. 1 Ohio State (9-0, 6-0) was supposed to be a top-five showdown on the level of today's game between No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama. Now it will be an elimination game for the Nittany Lions and a division-clincher for the Buckeyes.

The Buckeyes can have the Big Ten East wrapped up before "The Game" at No. 14 Michigan, which means the Wolverines will be in full spoiler mode at The Big House. Knowing that Ohio State hasn't lost a Big Ten conference game at home since 2015, the Michigan game might be the bigger test.

Ohio State is on its own in Big Ten

The Buckeyes are ranked No. 1 in the latest Playoff rankings, but they might slip to No. 2 depending on who wins LSU-Alabama. That's not a big deal.

Barring a miracle, Ohio State will beat Rutgers next week and take a 10-0 record into the games against Penn State and Michigan. The Buckeyes need to beat the Nittany Lions to clinch the East, but there are scenarios where Ohio State could lose to Michigan and still make the Playoff. Yes, it is strange but true to say the Buckeyes need to beat Penn State more than Michigan, but that is the reality of four-team positioning. The Buckeyes' best bet is to finish 13-0 and leave no doubt. They haven't done that since the College Football Playoff era started.

Even without defensive end Chase Young, that possibility looks strong.

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Penn State isn't dead yet

The Nittany Lions will drop out of the top four in the Playoff rankings — much to Clemson fans' delight — but Penn State still has a chance to claw back into the College Football Playoff if it wins out.

Penn State has led by double digits against Ohio State each of the last two years. The Nittany Lions need to win that game on Nov. 23 and perhaps beat Minnesota in a rematch at the Big Ten championship game. Would that be enough to get the Nittany Lions into the Playoff? Maybe, maybe not. That's the trouble with getting put in a one-loss pileup. The Pac-12 and Big 12 contenders were pleased with Saturday's result.

Big Ten won't get two teams in Playoff

This is the big one.

Big Ten fans won't like it, but even if Ohio State and Minnesota meet with identical records in the Big Ten championship game it's doubtful both teams would make the College Football Playoff. There hasn't been a conference championship game with two undefeated teams in the CFP era, so that would be a good sell.

But Iowa (2015) and Wisconsin (2017) took undefeated records into the Big Ten championship and were discarded after one loss. The same fate would likely happen to the Gophers, which would be heavy underdogs against Ohio State. Ohio State, meanwhile, has won the Big Ten title with one loss and has been left out the last two seasons. They would be left out with a loss to Minnesota.

We're not going to wait for that to happen. We'll just tell you that's how it is.

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