No. 14 Penn State vs. Rutgers: Help needed, but still much to play for

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No. 14 Penn State vs. Rutgers: Help needed, but still much to play for

No. 14  Penn State looks to snap a two-game losing streak in its homecoming game.

No. 14 Penn State (7-2, 4-2 Big Ten) vs. Rutgers (4-5, 3-3 Big Ten)
Beaver Stadium, State College, Pennsylvania
Saturday, noon, Big Ten Network

Scouting Penn State
The Nittany Lions have dropped their last two, to Ohio State and Michigan State, by a total of four points. PSU continues to have problems running the ball (despite the presence of one of the nation’s finest backs, Saquon Barkley) and rushing the passer. Barkley, who has rushed for 864 yards (5.7 a pop), has managed 107 yards on 35 attempts the last two weeks. And the defense has allowed 728 yards through the air over that span, while recording exactly four sacks. Barkley does lead the Big Ten with 14 touchdowns and is second in the nation in all-purpose yards per game (195.7).

Scouting Rutgers
The Scarlet Knights have won three of their last four, including last week’s 31-24 victory over Maryland. Gus Edwards, who leads RU with 630 rushing yards, caught the go-ahead 23-yard touchdown pass from Gio Rescigno with 7:30 left. Edwards ran for 109 of the Knights’ 239 yards in the game. Despite Rutgers’ improvement, the Knights went 2-10 last year — in Chris Ash’s first year as head coach — there is obviously work to be done. They are last in the Big Ten in total offense (294.4) and passing offense (127.0), and next-to-last in rushing defense (179.6).

History
The Lions lead the all-time series, 25-2, and have won the last 10 meetings. The score last year in snowy Piscataway was 39-0.

Storyline to watch
As always, the focal point is the Lions’ line play. They are again expected to be without offensive tackle Ryan Bates and defensive end Ryan Buchholz, both of whom suffered undisclosed leg injuries two weeks ago against Ohio State.

What’s at stake
PSU can still win the Big Ten East, with help, and if nothing else can qualify for a New Year’s Day bowl.

Prediction

Penn State 35, Rutgers 7

No. 10 Penn State-Maryland: Nittany Lions' last chance to build résumé

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No. 10 Penn State-Maryland: Nittany Lions' last chance to build résumé

No. 10 Penn State (9-2, 6-2 Big Ten) vs. Maryland (4-7, 2-6 Big Ten)
Byrd Stadium, College Park, Maryland
Saturday, 3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network

Scouting Penn State
The No. 10 Nittany Lions beat Nebraska, 56-44, last week as Saquon Barkley generated 224 all-purpose yards, 157 of them coming on the ground. Barkley, who ran for three scores, exceeded the 1,000-yard mark for the third straight season and was named Big Ten Co-Offensive Player of the Week. Trace McSorley has completed 65.2 percent of his passes to date, for a Big Ten-leading 2,991 yards and 24 touchdowns. He has been intercepted eight times. Coach James Franklin said earlier this week that linebacker Manny Bowen will miss his third straight game for what Franklin has called a violation of team rules. Franklin also said that he hopes to have defensive end Ryan Buchholz back. He has missed the last three games after suffering an undisclosed leg injury early in the Oct. 28 loss at Ohio State. The status of offensive tackle Ryan Bates is less certain. He too suffered a leg injury against the Buckeyes and has been out the last three weeks.

Scouting Maryland
The Terrapins fell last week in the snow at Michigan State, 17-7, their third straight loss and their sixth defeat in the last seven games. Max Bortenschlager, one of four quarterbacks to start for Maryland this season, returned after missing the previous game with a head injury. He has clicked on 51.3 percent of his passes this season, for 1,128 yards and 10 touchdowns, while being intercepted five times. D.J. Moore (72 catches, 933 yards, eight TDs) leads the Big Ten in receiving, while Ty Johnson (805 yards, 6.2 per attempt) is eighth in rushing. Maryland is no better than 12th in the conference in scoring defense, total defense, rushing defense or passing defense.

History
PSU leads the all-time series, 37-2-1, and has won the last two meetings. The score last season was 38-14.

Storyline to watch
It is likely to be the final regular-season game for Barkley, who has firmly established himself as one of the great players in school history.

What’s at stake
The Lions will seek to fill in the final lines on their résumé in hopes of earning a bid to a New Year’s Day bowl.

Prediction
Penn State, 45-14.

Penn State stays put in College Football Playoff rankings

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Penn State stays put in College Football Playoff rankings

Penn State's College Football Playoff chances remained the same Tuesday night.

The Nittany Lions are still a long shot.

James Franklin's team stayed put at No. 10 in the latest College Football Playoff rankings despite beating Nebraska last Saturday, 56-44, in its home finale.

The Nittany Lions close out the regular season this Saturday at Maryland.

Penn State (9-2, 6-2 Big Ten) missed out on the Dec. 2 Big Ten title game after losing back-to-back contests to Ohio State and Michigan State. The Nittany Lions have since won two straight and seem destined for a New Year's Six bowl with the College Football Playoff almost entirely out of reach.

Speaking of such, Miami made a small but potentially significant move up to No. 2 behind Alabama in the CFP rankings, with Clemson slipping one spot to three and Oklahoma holding at four.

Wisconsin and Auburn remained next up behind the top four in a week when the top half of the selection committee's rankings were mostly unchanged.

Georgia, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Penn State and Southern California followed in the same order as they did last week. Over the next two weeks, every team in the top nine will play another team ranked in the committee's top 25, including four games matching top playoff contenders.

The Crimson Tide will play at Auburn on Saturday to decide a spot in the Southeastern Conference championship on Dec. 2. The winner plays Georgia.

The Atlantic Coast Conference championship will match Clemson and Miami on Dec. 2, and Wisconsin and Ohio State play in the Big Ten championship.

Miami's move comes after rallying to beat Virginia last Saturday. Committee chairman Kirby Hocutt said Miami is showing characteristics of a championship team.

"When you get down the way Miami did to Virginia two times, once in each half, and you have the poise and the ability to come back and win in a convincing manner, that is special," said Hocutt, the Texas Tech athletic director.

The Hurricanes (10-0) play at Pitt Friday and now seem better positioned to get into the playoff even with a loss to Clemson, depending on how things play out in other conferences.

Central Florida came in at No. 15 and Memphis is 20th, the highest ranked teams from outside the Power Five. The American Athletic Conference rivals could meet in the league title game in two weeks if UCF beats USF on Black Friday, setting up a game that would likely send the winner into a New Year's Six bowl.

How does this play out?
On championship Saturday, the selection committee gathers at the Dallas-area resort hotel where it holds its weekly meeting to watch games together. When the games are done, Hocutt and his crew of 12 experts dig into the results and put together their final, and only truly meaningful, top 25.

Will it be a late night at the Gaylord Texan in Grapevine or will the committee members be able to uncork a bottle of wine during the second half of the ACC title game? A lot depends on Alabama.

The Crimson Tide could essentially eliminate two other playoff contenders in Auburn and Georgia. The Tigers have no shot if they don't win the Iron Bowl and the SEC title. Georgia at 11-2 with a loss in the conference title game could still have a flicker of hope to be the second SEC team in the playoff, but would need a lot of help.

At 13-0, the Crimson Tide would be seeded No. 1 and heading to New Orleans to play in the Sugar Bowl semifinal. Easy.

If Alabama loses the Iron Bowl or wins that and loses the SEC championship game, it means the committee will likely be ordering up a couple extra pots of coffee instead of a nice pinot noir.

The SEC champion is pretty much a lock to get in. But what to do with Alabama at 11-1 or 12-1? The Crimson Tide has been the most dominant team all season, rarely challenged on the field. Nick Saban's Tide, loaded with five-star recruits and future high draft picks, will always pass the eye test. Alabama's best wins now are against LSU and Mississippi State, both 8-3.

Alabama is the only team to make the playoff all three seasons. Is the committee prepared to leave the Tide out?

The next team that can help clear things up for the committee is Wisconsin.

The committee is not thrilled with the Badgers' schedule, but Wisconsin can get a marquee victory in the Big Ten title game — as long as Ohio State takes care of Michigan on Saturday. At 13-0 and with a conference championship, the committee can replace the ACC championship loser with Wisconsin in the top four.

Wisconsin can also eliminate Ohio State and its 31-point loss to Iowa. A Wisconsin loss to Ohio State — or Oklahoma losing to TCU in the Big 12 title game — opens to the door to consideration of two-loss teams that could bring Notre Dame and USC back into the discussion.

The committee could be weighing two-loss conference champions against one-loss teams with no titles. Last year Ohio State was the latter and got in on the strength of three victories against top-10 teams. No contender can match that without winning its conference this season, which could make the decision much tougher this time.