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Penn State makes case for playoffs; Florida bowls nearly set

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With Penn State’s thrilling 38-31 come-from-behind victory over Wisconsin in the Big 10 Championship Game on Saturday, the controversy over who gets the fourth spot in the College Football Playoffs (CFP) has already begun. While the four teams will be announced on Sunday, the debate will linger through the new year, no matter what happens.

Most are expecting the Nittany Lions (11-2) to head to the Rose Bowl to face Colorado with Wisconsin playing in the Cotton Bowl against Western Michigan of the Mid-American Conference. However, plenty believe Penn State should get the fourth CFP spot over Ohio State and they have some sound reasoning to back up the claim.

The Nittany Lions are the champions of a Power Five conference while Ohio State was unable to even reach the title game. The Buckeyes (11-1) were denied that opportunity when they lost to Penn State on October 23.

The job of the CFP selection committee would have been much easier if Clemson had lost to Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship Game in Orlando. Despite a spirited comeback, the Hokies fell just short, 42-35, locking in the Tigers for one of the four spots.

If Penn State somehow earns the selection to the playoffs, Ohio State would head to Pasadena, Calif. for the Rose Bowl. No matter what happens, one side or the other will believe they were robbed.

If Ohio State is selected, calls to change the rules will begin Sunday afternoon. More than a few hold the belief that CFP participants must be conference champions.

Saturday began with even more uncertainty surrounding bowls. There was concern that if Navy won the American Athletic Conference championship, several bowl assignments would be delayed while waiting to see if Navy could qualify for the Cotton Bowl bid. Temple’s 34-10 defeat of the Midshipmen in the American Conference Championship Game ended that concern.

With Saturday’s results, Florida’s nine bowls are now taking shape. While the projections are just that, the matchups are likely set.

Florida is expected to play Nebraska in the Outback Bowl while Florida State and Michigan are pointed toward an Orange Bowl showdown. Georgia Tech and Tennessee look to tangle in Jacksonville’s TaxSlayer Bowl and LSU is expected to come to Orlando to face Louisville in the Citrus Bowl.

Miami and West Virginia will meet in the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando while Houston and Western Kentucky are slated for the Boca Raton Bowl. Houston was a top 15 team at one point before hitting a late-season tailspin.

South Florida is likely to remain close to home in the St. Petersburg Bowl to face Army. UCF will also remain near its fan base where it will face South Alabama in the Cure Bowl. Memphis and Central Michigan will play in the Miami Beach Bowl.

It promises to be an interesting Sunday afternoon in college football.

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at

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