Penn State is ranked No. 8 in the second-to-last College Football Playoff rankings released on Tuesday.
The 10-2 Nittany Lions were also ranked No. 8 in this week’s AP poll after defeating Michigan State for their fourth consecutive win to end the regular season.
If Ohio State doesn’t make it into the playoff, the Buckeyes could go to the Rose Bowl for the second straight season. But with Penn State moving up to No. 8 this week, that opens up the possibility the Rose Bowl could select Penn State, leaving Ohio State to go to the Orange Bowl as the highest-ranked available Big Ten or SEC team.
If Ohio State ends up in the Rose Bowl, Penn State is a good bet for the Cotton Bowl.
Georgia (12-0) was No. 1 again. No. 2 Michigan (12-0) and No. 3 TCU (12-0) both moved up a spot, and Southern California (11-1) climbed two spots into the fourth slot.
Ohio State was No. 5 on Tuesday night, positioned to possibly take advantage if one of the top four slips up on championship weekend.
The Buckeyes (11-1) dropped three spots after losing 45-23 to the rival Wolverines on Saturday at home. That game was 24-20 heading into the fourth quarter and 31-23 with 7:23 to go before Michigan blew it open.
“It was talked about in the committee room that going into, really early in the fourth quarter, the game was still close,” said selection committee chairman Boo Corrigan, who is North Carolina State’s athletic director. “That being said, you can’t completely dismiss the way the fourth quarter ended with Michigan kind of taking over the game there late.”
Alabama (10-2) moved up a spot to No. 6 and was followed by Southeastern Conference rival Tennessee, which beat the Crimson Tide in October.
The final rankings and the four-team field for the College Football Playoff will be set Sunday. The semifinals will be played Dec. 31 in the Peach Bowl in Atlanta and the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Arizona.
The top four play in their conference championships game this weekend. The undefeated teams might not need to win this weekend to lock up a spot.
Georgia plays LSU (9-3), which fell nine spots to 14th, in the SEC title game. Michigan plays Purdue (8-4) for the Big Ten championship. TCU faces Kansas State, which is 10th in the latest rankings and has already lost to the surprising Horned Frogs.
USC and Heisman Trophy frontrunner Caleb Williams face Utah, No. 11 in the rankings, on Friday night in Las Vegas for the Pac-12 championship.
If the Trojans slip up, that could give Ohio State a second chance.
Since the college football playoff started in 2014, only one team has moved from outside the top four to inside and was selected to play in the semifinals without playing on championship weekend.
Alabama in 2017 was 11-1 and No. 5, but had lost to Auburn and finished second in the SEC West.
The Tigers then lost to Georgia in the SEC championship, which vaulted the Bulldogs from fifth to third.
Wisconsin was unbeaten and No. 4 heading into Big Ten championship game but was beaten by Ohio State, which had already lost twice and was No. 8.
That left the committee with an opening at No. 4 and it elevated Alabama instead of Ohio State, which finished No. 6 as the Big Ten champion with an 11-2 record.