The BCS rankings were released Sunday evening, with Penn State being ranked 21st in the initial standings.
Penn State was one of six Big Ten teams in the BCS top 25, with Wisconsin leading the conference at No. 6. With the Nittany Lions sitting at 6-1 as they prepare for a night game at Northwestern this week, the bowl picture can officially start to be discussed.
Can Penn State reach a BCS game? Sure, but they have plenty of work to do and may need a little help along the way.
The simplest way to reach the BCS is by winning the Big Ten's automatic bid.
To do that, Penn State will have to reach the Big Ten Championship, and that likely means knocking off the No. 6 Badgers in the regular season finale in Madison. With Wisconsin playing on a level above the rest of the Big Ten, that should be a difficult task.
That also likely means running the table the rest of the way by winning at Northwestern and Ohio State and in home games against No. 23 Illinois and No. 13 Nebraska. And a matchup in the Big Ten Championship could be against the Huskers, No. 16 Michigan State or No. 18 Michigan. If Penn State can run the table, then they certainly will have earned a spot in the BCS, without question.
And who knows? With one loss to No. 2 Alabama, perhaps Penn State could work their way into the conversation of best one-loss teams.
A Big Ten Championship would earn a spot in the Rose Bowl to take on the champions of the Pac-12, unless they happen to play for a BCS Championship. But could a two-loss Penn State reach the BCS as an at-large? That appears to be a stretch.
For a two-loss Penn State team to even be considered as an at-large they would likely need to lose in the Big Ten Championship. From there, the Nittany Lions would be stacked against some tough competition for the final BCS spots.
There are five BCS games, leaving ten spots open for the BCS Championship, Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Fiesta Bowl and Orange Bowl. The champions of the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, SEC and Pac-12 will automatically receive one spot, which leaves six spots for at-large berths. If Boise State holds firm at fifth, then they will be guaranteed an at-large spot, leaving five. Conferences are limited to sending two teams to the BCS.
Here is a guide to help you decide what to root for this week in order for a two-loss Penn State team to be considered for a BCS at-large.
Auburn to beat No. 1 LSU, No. 2 Alabama to beat Tennessee
All of the talk right now is that the game between LSU and Alabama will ultimately send the winner to the BCS Championship game.
But what if they both lose before that? In this case, Alabama helps Penn State's cause, as the Crimson Tide are the only loss on Penn State's schedule. Penn State wants Alabama to continue to run the table, but knocking LSU down a peg or two would be good to see.
The flip side is Penn State still needs to pass Auburn, but Alabama can take care of that later on.
Missouri to beat No. 4 Oklahoma State, Kansas to beat No. 11 Kansas State, Iowa State to beat No. 17 Texas A&M
Penn State needs some help in the Big 12, where four teams are ranked ahead of Penn State.
In this case, you want to root for Oklahoma to run the table, which would mean handing all of these teams at least one loss before the end of the regular season, but Oklahoma State and Kansas State are undefeated, so you don't want more competition in the "one-loss" category at the end of the season.
Remember, we're evaluating at-large berths here, and Penn State would have two losses in this scenario.
Air Force to beat No. 5 Boise State
Last season, one loss dropped Boise State completely out of the BCS picture. The same would likely be true this season, despite being in a tougher conference in the Mountain West Conference.
One loss would drop Boise State out of the BCS in all likelihood, but it may take two losses for Penn State to jump the Broncos.
Mississippi to beat No. 9 Arkansas
We can probably just go with the understanding that the SEC will get two teams into the BCS, which at this point would eliminate Arkansas from the picture with Alabama and LSU as the top two.
But anything will help Penn State move up the rankings.
North Carolina to beat No. 7 Clemson, Boston College to beat No. 12 Virginia Tech, Miami to beat No. 22 Georgia Tech
The ACC is going to have one team in the BCS for sure, and they have never had two teams in the BCS in the same season.
The best scenario for Penn State would be to see the ACC powers take some hits, because it will not take much to drop them out of the mix for a BCS at-large if they fail to win the ACC's automatic bid.
Clemson has been riding a magical ride this season, but one loss should take them out. Virginia Tech has already lost to Clemson but still is nine spots ahead of Penn State. A loss to Boston College would drop the Hokies behind the Nittany Lions.
Georgia Tech was defeated this weekend and sits right behind Penn State in the BCS standings, ranked 22nd.
Colorado to beat No. 10 Oregon and No. 25 Washington to beat No. 4 Stanford
Stanford and Oregon are scheduled to meet on November 12 (same day Penn State plays Nebraska), and with both teams ranked in the top 10 it would seem the Pac-12 is in good position to get two teams into the BCS.
This, of course, is not something Penn State wants to see.
If just one team can take a loss before that big game, the better things will play out for Penn State. Washington actually helps Penn State out, even though the Huskies are ranked behind Penn State, because their only loss so far this season is to Nebraska.
Marshall to beat No. 19 Houston
Boise State is the usual BCS-busting candidate, but Houston is starting to creep up the standings. One loss is all it will take to knock Houston out of the picture.
No. 13 Nebraska to beat Minnesota, No. 16 Michigan State to beat No. 4 Wisconsin
This is where it gets tricky.
Remember, in this scenario we have Penn State losing two games and looking for an at-large berth. That means you want Penn State to beat the best possible opponents the rest of the way.
That means pulling for the Spartans, who you want to see in the Big Ten Championship with as high a ranking as possible. Unfortunately, that means Wisconsin and Nebraska will take a hit before Penn State gets a crack at them.
Michigan State plays both over the next two weeks. If the Spartans win each, they will move to 7-1 and into the top 10 in the rankings, while Wisconsin would still be with a decent ranking.
When Nebraska comes to State College they will have one game to make up for a possible loss to Michigan State and move up the rankings as much as possible (Northwestern). If Wisconsin is a one-loss team by the time Penn State wraps up the regular season in Madison that could really help Penn State's case.
No. 23 Illinois to beat Purdue
Staying in the Big Ten, you want Penn State's game against Illinois next week to have some impact, and Illinois being in the Top 25 would help. The Illini losing to Ohio State hurt this weekend, but the once-beaten Illini can still help Penn State out a small bit.
And, of course, pull for previous opponents unless it interferes with the plan
Temple has lost two games but is still in on pace to play for an MAC Championship. If the Owls can win an MAC Championship it may not mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things, but it is one more quality win to hang a hat on.
Temple plays at Bowling Green this weekend and at Ohio next weekend. And don't look now, but Eastern Michigan has a winning record. The Eagles probably won't help out a whole bunch, but can they put together three more wins to finish with a winning record? Eastern Michigan faces Western Michigan this weekend.
We already discussed that Alabama plays a major role in everything for Penn State as well. And not that it will have much of an impact, but FCS Indiana State is now 5-2. If they could finish with 10 wins, that would be a slight positive.
It may not have much of a factor, but every thousandth of a point can help.
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