Panel puts Penn State at No. 12, ahead of polls

UNIVERSITY PARK — Penn State shocked everyone with its win over Ohio State two weeks ago, and Tuesday night the College Football Playoff Committee shocked everyone by giving the Nittany Lions a huge reward for that victory.

Penn State is ranked No. 12 in the initial playoff poll, a major surprise given that the AP and coaches polls haven’t shown the Lions anywhere near that much love. Penn State is ranked 20th in the AP poll and 23rd in the coaches poll.

The committee clearly placed great emphasis on the victory over Ohio State.

“We do not discuss in our selection committee room the other polls, and I personally have been careful not to look at those,” CFP committee chairman Kirby Hocutt said on a conference call. “We discussed Penn State based upon their merits as the committee saw them. They’ve played a very strong schedule, and obviously the win over No. 6 Ohio State is a quality win.

“Four of their six wins are against teams with winning records. Penn State is a team that has improved as the season has gone along, so the committee was very confident that we had Penn State placed at the right spot at No. 12.”

Earlier Tuesday, longtime college football analyst Phil Steele pointed out a metric that awards one point for each win of a team that a squad has beaten. In that metric, Penn State ranked fourth in the country with 30 points, behind Alabama (39), Clemson (37) and Michigan (32).

During his weekly press conference, Penn State coach James Franklin was asked about all the positive attention the program has been receiving lately. The coach, as he usually does, redirected to point out the main focus internally is the upcoming opponent.

“Iowa, Iowa, Iowa, Iowa, Iowa, Iowa, Iowa,” Franklin repeated seven times.

He did concede, though, that all of the positive attention does help.

“Externally, I think it’s important because perception is important,” Franklin said. “Perception is that person’s reality. As you guys know, the media has an impact on that. So externally it’s great.”

Franklin later was asked about the overall state of the program, with regard to the big picture and being ahead of schedule in rebuilding. Most expected this to be a 7-5 type of season, but the win over Ohio State and favorable remaining schedule have many believing it could be a 10-2 year.

Franklin pointed out, as he’s done before, he wasn’t fully aware of what he was getting into when he came to Penn State following the sanctions.

“Now we’re at a point where we’re starting to work through these things, starting to make some progress,” he said. “I think we’re still kind of right on schedule.

“We’re taking steps every single day, a lot of steps that I don’t think are necessarily seen by fans or the media, but we see it every day in our locker room, we see it every day out on the practice field. … There’s been steady progress all along, maybe not as fast as some people would have liked, but it’s really been pretty steady.”

This is a very close-knit team, the coach pointed out, and that’s what most would expect from a successful program.

“We’re in a good place,” Franklin said. “This is how it’s supposed to be. Now that we have that, we can’t ever let it go. We got to work real hard at keeping that.”

Big Mahon

Right tackle Brendan Mahon has emerged as a major factor on the offensive line, and twice in the past few weeks he has been graded out by Pro Football Focus as one of the best tackles in the country.

Asked if he has paid attention to that notoriety, Mahon said, “A little bit. It’s nice as an offensive lineman once in a while to get commended for your efforts. The main goal is to win football games, to do whatever I have to do to win for this team, put the team in the best spot it can be to win.”

Mahon struggled at left tackle in the loss at Pitt, giving up two sacks that led to fumbles and touchdowns. He has been superb since then, however, and said a big part of it has been everyone on the O-line buying in and jelling.

“That all has to do with Coach (Matt) Limegrover and everything he’s brought to the table,” Mahon said. “He believes in all of us, we believe in him. There’s a trust between all of us and him.

“I think the biggest thing with Coach Limegrover is how much he truly cares for all of us,” Mahon later added. “You really feel like almost a dad, somebody who really cares about your well-being, not only on the field but off the field, as well.”

Notes: Franklin seemed to suggest on Twitter his desire to have another whiteout Saturday night, but he walked back that sentiment a bit Tuesday: “What I said after the game was I wanted the stadium to be rocking and sold out and create an unbelievable environment,” he said. “Then I put in there — Who says we can only have one whiteout a year? I was really talking about the mentality and what we need in terms of an environment and excitement in the stadium. But it kind of went crazy, went viral, people ran with it.” … For the first time, Franklin did confirm that defensive tackle Curtis Cothran was suspended for the first four games this season. Franklin did not specify why.