Kings of the east

Penn State clinches spot in Big Ten championship game

Sentinel photo by CHRISTOPHER SHANNON Penn State celebrates a victory over Michigan State and the Big Ten Conference East Division championship Saturday at Beaver Stadium. Full game coverage can be found on Page B1 of today’s edition.

UNIVERSITY PARK — At 4:03 p.m. Saturday afternoon, the fans went nuts at Beaver Stadium, standing and cheering as loudly as they have all season.

Some Penn State players had no idea what was going on. Others did, and so did coach James Franklin.

Ohio State had just beaten Michigan in double overtime, 325 miles away in Columbus, Ohio. That win cleared yet another hurdle in this crazy season for the Nittany Lions, giving them the chance to control their own destiny in the hunt for a Big Ten championship.

“I didn’t find out, obviously, until the crowd erupted,” Franklin said of the all-important Buckeyes victory. “I just assumed that’s what it was.”

Quarterback Trace McSorley had no idea what the ovation was for.

“I really didn’t even know what was going on,” McSorley said. “I had to go ask coach what everyone was cheering about. I thought they were reviewing a play or something in our game.”

Ohio State’s victory meant that, with a win over Michigan State, the Lions would win the Big Ten East and advance to Saturday’s conference championship game against Wisconsin.

That’s exactly what Penn State did, overcoming a sluggish first half to demolish the Spartans, 45-12.

This season has been all about a bizarre sequence of events going in favor of Penn State, which has won eight games in a row and has gotten a lot of help from other teams losing. So Saturday’s bizarre sequence of events was just par for the course, as Ohio State and Michigan kicked off at noon and PSU’s hopes depended entirely on the Buckeyes winning.

“I don’t know if we were necessarily rooting for one team, but we sure did want another team to lose,” Franklin said.

Gesicki said he realized what had happened “when everybody started going nuts in the first quarter, for no reason.”

Penn State trailed at the time, 3-0, and was down 12-10 at the half. But the Lions destroyed Michigan State in the second half, outclassing the Spartans in every way and outscoring them, 35-0.

“It definitely gave us a little spark,” Gesicki said of the Ohio State news hitting the stadium. “We came out a little flat, and then after that kind of got a drive going a little bit, got a field goal up on the board and then took that momentum into the second half.”

Penn State will play Wisconsin for the Big Ten title and a whole lot more Saturday in Indianapolis. If the Lions win, they will have a good case for making it to the College Football Playoff.

Here’s where things stand: Alabama, Ohio State and Clemson all have an inside track to being selected for the playoff.

Undefeated Alabama, who plays Florida in the SEC Championship, and Clemson, who faces Virginia Tech for the ACC title, are both prohibitive favorites.

The last berth figures to come down to a debate over whether the Big Ten champion or the Pac-12 champion is most deserving.

No. 5 Washington plays No. 9 Colorado in the Pac-12 championship game next week. If Washington wins, it will be 12-1 and very well could be the frontrunner for a CFP berth.

No. 7 Penn State, with a win over Wisconsin, would be 11-2. The Lions, though, would have two marquee wins — over No. 2 Ohio State and No. 6 Wisconsin — while Washington does not have one victory of that quality. The Huskies also played the easiest non-conference schedule in the country. Washington would be Colorado’s highest-ranked win if the Buffaloes earn the victory.

But no matter what any other teams do, the Lions know they have to take care of their own business against Wisconsin.

“This is our one-game season coming up this Saturday,” Gesicki said. “Obviously I’m very thankful and appreciative of everything that’s happened this year, but we’re nowhere near done and nowhere near satisfied.”