No. 5 Ohio State is listed ahead of No. 8 Penn State in the College Football Playoff rankings and has a head-to-head win over the Nittany Lions, but that reportedly won't stop the Rose Bowl from potentially passing on the Buckeyes even if given the opportunity to select them.
Nicole Auerbach and Stewart Mandel of The Athletic reported Wednesday that "the Rose Bowl is strongly considering taking Penn State instead of Ohio State this year" if the Buckeyes do not finish in the top four and make the CFP.
While the Rose Bowl traditionally takes the Big Ten champion, Michigan figures to be in the CFP if it defeats Purdue in the conference title game Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium. That would leave the bowl opening for another team, and Ohio State would normally be the selection.
However, as Auerbach noted, the Rose Bowl is not obligated to pick the highest-ranked team of the remaining options.
On paper, passing up on a chance to pick the Buckeyes seems foolish.
Data indicated before the season started that Scarlet and Gray have the biggest fanbase in college football. They are also television ratings juggernauts who routinely draw millions of eyeballs to watch their games.
According to Sports Media Watch, Ohio State had the highest-ranked game of the week four times this year when it faced Michigan, Maryland, Penn State and Notre Dame. It also finished in the top five most-watched games of the week when it played Toledo, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Iowa and Northwestern.
That all adds up to an easy selection for the Rose Bowl, right?
Well, not so fast.
Ohio State was just in the Rose Bowl last year and is one of the programs that approaches every season with a championship-or-bust mentality. Fair or not, the fanbase views a trip to the Rose Bowl and not the CFP as a disappointment, especially if it came after a loss to archrival Michigan.
The Buckeyes lost to the Wolverines for a second straight year when a win would have all but clinched a spot in the top four. Their fans were not enthusiastic about a Rose Bowl game consolation prize last season in the same scenario and didn't even sell out their allotment of tickets for the matchup with Utah, per Auerbach.
There is also the reality that many Ohio State players could opt out ahead of the exhibition game.
That was the case last season when Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson were among the players who didn't play to protect their NFL draft status, although that didn't stop the Buckeyes from defeating Utah in a high-scoring thriller.
Quarterback C.J. Stroud has already said he would consider sitting out a non-playoff bowl game, and he likely wouldn't be the only one.
Penn State, on the other hand, hasn't been to the Rose Bowl since the 2016 campaign. It isn't quite in the national-championship-or-bust mode that Ohio State is every year, and its fans would likely be more enthusiastic about such a trip to a prominent bowl game.
All of that means the Rose Bowl may decide to jump at the chance to take the Nittany Lions.
If the Buckeyes have their way, though, Utah will defeat USC in Friday's Pac-12 Championship Game and open up a spot in the CFP after all.