If the college football season ended today, Penn State would be in the national championship playoff.
It doesn’t, and games that will actually determine the four-team field are still to be played, but the Nittany Lions got a stamp of approval from the playoff committee Tuesday night.
Penn State was fourth in the first set of rankings issued by the committee this season. Four teams make the field.
It is the first time Penn State has been in the top four in the history of the playoff, now in its sixth year.
The Lions are 8-0 and ranked fifth in the country by the Associated Press and coaches’ polls. According to the committee, Ohio State is ranked No. 1, followed by LSU and Alabama, all 8-0.
It is considered a mild surprise that Penn State ranked ahead of No. 5 Clemson, also 8-0 and last year’s national champion.
Clemson had been ranked in the top four in 25 straight rankings, but its current resume has been hurt by a relatively weak schedule.
“Penn State was ranked number four because of their strong play, including wins over (No. 14) Michigan and (No. 18) Iowa,’’ playoff committee Rob Mullens said in a media conference call Tuesday.
“Their strength of schedule gives it an edge over Clemson.’’
Clemson had won its last four games in blowouts, but barely survived against 4-5 North Carolina Sept. 28, winning 21-20 when the Tar Heels missed a two-point conversion attempt with 1:17 left.
“The close win over North Carolina is a factor, because we look at the entire resume,’’ Mullens said.
Still very much alive for a playoff berth, all with one loss and key games ahead, are No. 6 Georgia, No. 7. Oregon, No. 8 Utah and No. 9 Oklahoma.
Each weekly ranking is a snapshot, and does not imply that any team will maintain its ranking by winning.
There will certainly be movement in the rankings next week. LSU plays at Alabama and Penn State plays at No. 17 Minnesota (8-0). Penn State plays at Ohio State Nov. 23.
The committee will issue new rankings each Tuesday through Dec. 3. The rankings that actually determine the playoff field, after the regular season and all conference championship games are complete, will be announced Sunday. Dec. 8.