Originally found on Fox Sports:
Nov. 7, 2023 9:40 p.m. ET
The College Football Playoff selection committee’s latest Top 25 has set up a moment many around the sport have hoped to see for 11 weeks: Undefeated No. 3 Michigan will finally play a team that is not only ranked but is capable of making the CFP.
Placing Michigan at No. 3 without a ranked win — ahead of undefeated No. 5 Washington and No. 4 Florida State — demonstrates not just how good the committee thinks Michigan is, but how good it thinks the Big Ten is, too.
In fact, the Wolverines are the only Power 5 team in the CFP Top 25 that has not yet played a ranked opponent.
That changes Saturday, when they travel to Happy Valley to take on No. 10 Penn State.
The Nittany Lions have lost just one game to undefeated and No. 1-ranked Ohio State, and it’s not a stretch to say that how the Wolverines play against the Nittany Lions at Beaver Stadium will be how their season is summarized to this point.
If the Wolverines win, they’ll prove to be as good as I and the Go Blue faithful think they are — I’ve ranked Michigan as the No. 1 team in my college football rankings at FOXSports.com since September.
If they lose, the line will be that Michigan is overrated for having beaten so-so (and outright awful) football teams in the lead-up to this game, a contest that not only could help decide who wins the Big Ten East but the Big Ten title, and earn what seems to be a certain invitation to the CFP.
That’s how good the three teams at the top of the B1G East have been, and that’s the reason all three still have a chance to make the CFP. But this game isn’t just important to Michigan. In fact, it’s one of the most important of PSU coach James Franklin’s career, too.
With a win, Penn State puts itself in position to win the Big Ten East title on a tiebreaker.
If Penn State beats Michigan, and Michigan proceeds to beat Ohio State in The Game, all would finish Big Ten play 8-1. Then the Big Ten East champ would be decided by tiebreaker criteria for which you’d have to get to the fifth point — winning percentage against non-division Big Ten opponents — to determine the winner.
Put another way? Strength of schedule.
Penn State holds that edge by just one game, as its non-divisional opponents are 8-10 against the league, while the non-divisional foes on the schedules of Ohio State and Michigan are each 7-11 against the league. Essentially, because PSU drew — and beat — Iowa (4-2), the Nittany Lions are benefiting from Iowa being the best team in the Big Ten West.
With three weeks of the season left to play, PSU could lose that edge in the tiebreaker, or Ohio State could simply blow up PSU’s chance to play for a Big Ten title by beating Michigan in a few weeks.
Still, the possibility of playing in the CFP remains for Franklin, who is 3-16 against top-10 opponents, including losing 10 of its last 11. In fact, the last time PSU beat a top-10 Big Ten opponent was seven years ago when the Nittany Lions knocked off No. 2-ranked Ohio State, 24-21.
If the Nittany Lions hadn’t lost to Michigan earlier that year, perhaps they would have been playing in the CFP.
Alas, beating Michigan over the last two years has been just about impossible for regular-season opponents.
The Wolverines have won 27 straight in the regular season and 21 straight against Big Ten opponents. The Wolverines are allowing just 6.7 points per game. That not only has them off to their best scoring defense start through nine games since 1985 but helped them join 2021 Georgia as the only teams in the last 20 years to allow 14 points or fewer through nine games. No one has looked like a challenge to this Michigan team.
And the last time Penn State’s offense, led by quarterback Drew Allar and running backs Kaytron Allen and Nick Singleton, faced a defense as good as the one it will face on Saturday, they managed to score just 12 points and rushed for just 49 yards in a loss to Ohio State.
However, the PSU defense also held Ohio State to just 20 points, and the Lions are giving up just 11.9 points per game and 4.0 yards per play.
A win by Penn State will take an effort unseen in Happy Valley in seven years. Either way, the might of the Big Ten (East) will once again be on display as it and the SEC are the only conferences with three top 10 teams among the CFP rankings.
The College Football Playoff Rankings (as of Nov. 7)
Ohio State (9-0)Georgia (9-0)Michigan (9-0)Florida State (9-0)Washington (9-0)Oregon (8-1)Texas (8-1)Alabama (8-1)Ole Miss (8-1)Penn State (8-1)Louisville (8-1)Oregon State (7-2)Tennessee (7-2)Missouri (7-2)Oklahoma State (7-2)Kansas (7-2)Oklahoma (7-2)Utah (7-2)LSU (6-3)Notre Dame (7-3)Arizona (6-3)Iowa (7-2)Tulane (8-1)North Carolina (7-2)Kansas State (6-3)
More on the College Football Playoff Rankings
Tuesday’s reveal is the second of six rankings announcements, capped by Selection Sunday on Dec. 3.
The top four teams will compete in the CFP semifinals, which will be held on Jan. 1 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, and at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. The national championship game will be held on Jan. 8 in Houston.
College Football Rankings remaining 2023 schedule
Tuesday, Nov. 14: 9 p.m. ET (time approximate)Tuesday, Nov. 21: 7 p.m. ETTuesday, Nov. 28: 7 p.m. ETSunday, Dec. 3: Noon ET (Selection Sunday)
RJ Young is a national college football writer and analyst for FOX Sports and the host of the podcast “The Number One College Football Show.” Follow him on Twitter at @RJ_Young and subscribe to “The RJ Young Show” on YouTube.
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