What lies ahead for Penn State Football following the October gauntlet?

STATE COLLEGE, PA - OCTOBER 01: The Penn State Nittany Lion mascot stands with players on the field after the game at Beaver Stadium on October 1, 2022 in State College, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
STATE COLLEGE, PA - OCTOBER 01: The Penn State Nittany Lion mascot stands with players on the field after the game at Beaver Stadium on October 1, 2022 in State College, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images) /

Three weeks ago, Penn State Football was about to enter a three-game gauntlet that would ultimately define their season. Unfortunately, they came out of it how most people expected them to: 1-2 with losses to Michigan and Ohio State.

So, with any outside shot at a conference championship or playoff appearance officially out the window, what lies ahead for the Nittany Lions the rest of the way?

Penn State hits the road this week to take on Indiana, then returns home to face Maryland, followed by a road trip to Rutgers, and finally capping off the regular season against Michigan State. Three of those four teams have beaten Penn State once in the past two seasons, so there is a bit of a revenge factor in most of these matchups.

The Nittany Lions will be favored in each of those contests, and the way things are looking right now, they should be able to run the table in November and finish with their first 10-win regular season since 2019–exceeding the expectations that many members of the Penn State Football fanbase had going into this season following a mediocre past two seasons.

Assuming they do take care of business the rest of the way, this team should be headed for a New Year’s Six bowl.

At this point, the Orange Bowl is the most likely scenario. It would be the first Orange Bowl appearance for the program since the triple overtime win against Bobby Bowden and Florida State in the 2005 season.

Technically, the Rose Bowl isn’t totally out of the equation at this point either. If both Michigan and Ohio State find themselves in the College Football Playoff, Penn State would likely be the next highest rated Big Ten team; in which case they would be headed to Pasadena.

For that to happen, Michigan and Ohio State would need to both be undefeated when they meet in the final week of the regular season, and they would also need some teams from other conferences to eliminate themselves. An 11-1 Michigan/Ohio State, whose only loss is to the other in a closely contested battle, has a decent shot at the playoff.

Penn State’s only true competition in terms of earning a bid to one of these two bowl games is Illinois. The Illini are the only other Big Ten team that is currently ranked inside the top 25.

The first College Football Playoff rankings come out this week, and although Penn State has no shot at the playoff itself, these will be used as the official rankings from this point on. So, the Nittany Lions will need to put themselves ahead of Illinois by the final playoff rankings to solidify a New Year’s Six bid.

Illinois does still have to play Michigan in the regular season, as well as play Michigan or Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship (assuming they hang on to win the west). They also play Purdue in two weeks, which is certainly a losable game for the Illini.

What about the flip side of the coin? What if the Nittany Lions slip up once or twice the rest of the way?

In that case, look towards options such as the Citrus Bowl or the Music City Bowl.

The best case scenario at this stage of the game is a 10-2 regular season, capped off with a solid win in the Orange or Rose Bowl to finish with an 11-2 overall record and propel them into the offseason on a high note.

I’m not one for moral victories–ultimately this Penn State Football program should be aiming higher than a 10-2 campaign–but considering they’re coming off of a 4-5 season in 2020 and a 7-6 season in 2021, a 10/11-win season would be a big step in the right direction for the program.

With such a young core of talented players expected to return–as well as another great recruiting class on the horizon–a New Year’s Six win could be a key building block heading into next year where expectations could be as high as they’ve been in the preseason since probably 2017.

More. Penn State Football: game balls from the loss to Ohio State. light