Penn State still trails Ohio State, Michigan in playoff rankings

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PISCATAWAY, NJ - NOVEMBER 19: Head coach James Franklin of the Penn State Nittany Lions looks on against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights during the second half at High Point Solutions Stadium on November 19, 2016 in Piscataway, New Jersey. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Penn State held its ground in this week's College Football Playoff rankings announced Tuesday night, but it looked likely that Ohio State would be ranked ahead of the Nittany Lions in Sunday's final poll even if the Lions won the Big Ten championship game.

Penn State (10-2) was ranked seventh for the second straight week while the Buckeyes (11-1) came in at No. 2. The interesting dynamic in the latest rankings was that Michigan, which was defeated Saturday by Ohio State, slipped only to the fifth spot after being ranked No. 3 last week.

That presented the possibility that the Wolverines would move into the top four and gain a playoff berth on Sunday if No. 3 Clemson or No. 4 Washington lose their conference championship games. The Tigers take on No. 23 Virginia Tech in Saturday night's ACC title contest and the Huskies play Friday night against No. 8 Colorado for the Pac-12 crown.

Whether Michigan moves up would depend on how much weight the College Football Playoff selection committee puts on Saturday night's Big Ten championship, which matches Penn State and No. 6 Wisconsin. There is a possibility that the winner could leap over Michigan into the top four.

Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt, chairman of the selection committee, said there was no change from last week in the separation between Penn State and Ohio State, saying "they're not even close in the eyes of the selection committee," even though the Nittany Lions defeated the Buckeyes on Oct. 22.

"The purpose of the selection committee is to rank the four very best teams in college football for inclusion in the playoff," Hocutt told ESPN. "We've gone over the data in detail. We've put the teams side by side to compare and the selection committee believes this week that Ohio State is in the two spot and Penn State is in the seven spot."

He did not say whether the winner of Saturday's Big Ten championship should be one of the top four teams. "We don't look ahead," he said. "We've seen some crazy things happen. It's hard to project what will happen this weekend."

If Ohio State gets into the playoffs, it will mark the first time a team qualified that did not win its conference championship.

Hocutt said if things get close, the committee will fall back on its four metrics to decide standings: conference champions, head-to-head, strength of schedule and record against common opponents. But he added that each selection committee member decides for himself the order of importance in the four areas.

As for the Wolverines, Hocutt said the gap between No. 4 Washington and No. 5 Michigan was "very, very small," even as he conceded that the Huskies posted a quality win Friday over Washington State.

Temple, which plays Navy on Saturday for the AAC championship and perhaps an at-large berth in the Cotton Bowl, was not listed in the committee's top 25. The Midshipmen came in at No. 19 while fellow ACC member Houston was ranked 24th.

jjuliano@phillynews.com

@joejulesinq

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