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

Penn State drops to No. 14 in College Fooball Playoff rankings

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AP Images

Penn State drops to No. 14 in College Fooball Playoff rankings

A second straight loss hasn’t been kind to Penn State.

After their 27-24 road loss to then-No. 24 Michigan State last Saturday, the Nittany Lions tumbled to No. 16 in the Associated Press top 25 poll.

The College Football Playoff rankings were just as harsh, as Penn State dropped to No. 14. The Nittany Lions (7-2, 4-2 Big Ten) were No. 7 in the initial CFP rankings released last week.

Georgia, Alabama, Notre Dame and Clemson held their spots in the top four of the College Football Playoff rankings, and unbeaten Miami moved up three spots to No. 7 before its showdown with the Fighting Irish.

Oklahoma remained fifth and TCU moved up to sixth in the rankings released Tuesday. The Sooners and Horned Frogs play a key Big 12 game on Saturday, with the winner taking sole possession of first place in the conference.

After Miami, unbeaten Wisconsin was No. 8, the highest-ranked Big Ten team. Washington, the highest-ranked Pac-12 team, is ninth and Auburn is 10th.

Notre Dame visits the Hurricanes on Saturday night, and Georgia is at Auburn.

No. 14 Penn State and No. 15 Ohio State fell out of the top 10 after losses last week.

UCF was 18th, the highest-ranked team from outside the Power Five conferences. The highest-ranked conference champion from the Group of Five leagues is guaranteed a spot in one of the New Year's Six Bowls, and the American Athletic Conference is in prime position to grab that bid this year.

UCF is unbeaten and leading the American's East Division, and Memphis, ranked 22nd, is in the first in the AAC West. No other Group of Five conferences are represented in the selection committee's rankings this week.

Penn State ranked No. 7 in initial College Football Playoff rankings

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USA Today Images

Penn State ranked No. 7 in initial College Football Playoff rankings

The first College Football Playoff rankings of the season were released Tuesday night and Penn State was nowhere to be found in the top four.

After leading by as many as 18 points last Saturday at Ohio State, the Nittany Lions allowed three fourth-quarter touchdowns to J.T. Barrett for a 39-38 loss.

As a result, Penn State fell to No. 7 in the AP Poll — its worst position of the season — and landed in the same spot of the College Football Playoff rankings.

While the Nittany Lions are on the outside looking in, Georgia is peering down at the rest from the No. 1 perch, followed by Alabama, Notre Dame and Clemson.

Oklahoma and Ohio State were the next two in the selection committee's initial top 25. The final rankings that will determine the participants in the College Football Playoff semifinals come out Dec. 3.

Georgia and Alabama, Southeastern Conference rivals, are both undefeated and have been dominating its competition. The Bulldogs' one close game was at Notre Dame in September, a 20-19 victory.

The Fighting Irish (7-1) have not lost since, including blowouts of Michigan State, Southern California and North Carolina State.

Clemson (7-1), the defending national champion, and Alabama have been ranked in the initial top four of the by the selection committee each of the last three seasons. The Tigers and Tide played for the last two national titles, with each winning one.

Over the first three seasons of the playoff, a total of five teams have been ranked in the top four of the initial ranking and gone on to reach the semifinals: Florida State (which was second) in 2014; Clemson (first) and Alabama (fourth) in 2015; and Alabama (first) and Clemson (second) in 2016.

After Penn State, the rest of the top 10 was followed by No. 8 TCU, No. 9 Wisconsin and No. 10 Miami. The Badgers and Hurricanes are both undefeated but with no marquee victories.

Here is the Top 25: