The 12 Games and 2 Plays that Kept Penn State Out of the CFP

Photo Credit: For The Win – USA Today (featured image), CBS Sports (team logos)

This is the point in the NCAA football season where fans are talking about “what if” this and “what if” that to imagine possible scenarios where there teams would have ended up in a better bowl; in particular, the College Football Playoff (CFP).

The one team in particular that this is easy to do for is the Pennsylvania State Nittany Lions, who finished the season ranked #5 in the CFP rankings, just one rank away from being selected into this season’s CFP field.


Here are the 12 one possession games that, had the losing team won just one of them, would have put Pennsylvania State in this season’s CFP for sure.

  • clem Clemson Tigers, 19, aub Auburn Tigers, 13
    • Week 1: Saturday, September 3rd, 2016
  • clem Clemson Tigers, 30, troy Troy Trojans, 24
    • Week 2: Saturday, September 10th, 2016
  • pitt Pittsburgh Panthers, 42, psu Pennsylvania State Nittany Lions, 39
    • Week 2: Saturday, September 10th, 2016
  • wash Washington Huskies, 35, ariz Arizona Wildcats, 28
    • Week 4: Saturday, September 24th, 2016
  • clem Clemson Tigers, 42, lou Louisville Cardinals, 36
    • Week 5: Saturday, October 1st, 2016
  • clem Clemson Tigers, 24, ncst North Carolina State Wolfpack, 17
    • Week 7: Saturday, October 15th, 2016
  • ohiost Ohio State Buckeyes, 30, wisc Wisconsin Badgers, 23
    • Week 7: Saturday, October 15th, 2016
  • ohiost Ohio State Buckeyes, 24, nw Northwestern Wildcats, 20
    • Week 9: Saturday, October 29th, 2016
  • wash Washington Huskies, 31, utah Utah Utes, 24
    • Week 9: Saturday, October 29th, 2016
  • clem Clemson Tigers, 37, fsu Florida State Seminoles, 34
    • Week 9: Saturday, October 29th, 2016
  • ohiost Ohio State Buckeyes, 17, michst Michigan State Spartans, 16
    • Week 12: Saturday, November 19th, 2016
  • clem Clemson Tigers, 42, vatech Virginia Tech Hokies, 35
    • Week 14: Saturday, December 3rd, 2016


In terms of individual plays, certain teams have scenarios where if one thing happens, then another thing would have had to have happened in order for them to advance to the CFP. For example, had Ohio State Buckeyes’ quarterback JT Barrett been ruled short on his 4th & 1 conversion in double overtime against the Michigan Wolverines, the Wolverines would have won and advanced to the Big Ten Conference championship, where they then would have had to beat the Wisconsin Badgers in order to make it into the CFP.

But for Pennsylvania State, had either one of these plays gone in another direction, they would be sitting in this season’s CFP field. None of these plays play off of one another, and none of them create additional scenarios that Pennsylvania State would have had to have gone their way in order for them to be in this season’s CFP field.


  • What if the North Carolina State Wolfpack would have made any one of their three missed field goal attempts to beat the Clemson Tigers?
    • North Carolina State would have won the game had their kicker Kyle Bambard made more than one of his four field goal attempts. Three missed field goals in regulation from 43 yards, 37 yards, and 33 yards, with the 33-yarder being the potential game winner at the end of regulation, helped Clemson take North Carolina State to overtime with the score tied at 17, and it helped them to win by a score of 24-17. Had Bambard made at least one of their three missed field goals, the Wolfpack would have won the game, and Clemson, who is the ACC champion with a 12-1 record and in the CFP field, would not even have been in the ACC championship game with an 10-2 record. They would have been out of the CFP field with Pennsylvania State ranked higher than them and in the CFP field instead.


  • What if the Michigan State Spartans would have converted their 2-point conversion and beat Ohio State?
    • Michigan State would have won the game by a score of 18-17 over Ohio State instead of losing by a score of 17-16 had Spartans’ quarterback Tyler O’Connor converted on the team’s 2-point conversion following running back LJ Scott’s 1-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter instead of throwing an interception on the 2-point conversion attempt. Ohio State would then have had a 10-2 record and been a non-conference champion that did not make it into the CFP come the end of the season as opposed to having an 11-1 record and being a non-conference champion that made it into the CFP. They would not have been in this season’s CFP field, while Pennsylvania State would have.


So many things ALMOST went the Nittany Lions’ way in terms of getting them into the CFP over the course of this season, but unfortunately for them, not one of them happened. On a bright note, they are still the highest ranked team that is not in the CFP at #5 and will play in the famed Rose Bowl against the #9 Southern California Trojans on Monday, January 2nd, 2017, at 5:00 PM EST to end their season.


-Asher Fair