Best chance to make their first College Football Playoff: Penn State or Florida?

Kyle Trask, Florida Gators. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
Kyle Trask, Florida Gators. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images) /

Do Florida football, Penn State football make the College Football Playoff?

Someone loves to crash the College Football Playoff party every holiday season.

Since its creation back in 2014, at least one Power 5 team has made the new postseason format for the first time each season. 2019 was the first time the LSU Tigers made it to the national semifinals, and no they did not disappoint. So who could it be this year? Could it be Dan Mullen‘s Florida football team or what about James Franklin‘s Penn State football team?

FOX Sports had an interesting discussion about which Power 5 program could be like 2019 LSU, 2018 Notre Dame or 2017 Georgia. While 2004 Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart likes the Florida Gators’ chances to pull it off, FOX’s lead college football analyst Joel Klatt thinks we shouldn’t sleep on the Penn State Nittany Lions getting in either. But who is more right, though?

The better bet for College Football Playoff in 2020: Penn State or Florida?

Penn State and Florida are two of the likeliest teams to potentially pull this off in 2020. Other programs to keep an eye on to achieve this impressive accomplishment include the Big Ten’s Wisconsin Badgers and the Big 12’s Texas Longhorns. Seeing either of them get into the playoff for the first time wouldn’t be overly shocking, as they’re already New Year’s Six-caliber anyway.

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With Florida, the Gators have a few advantages going their way. They get LSU at home this year and don’t have to play the Alabama Crimson Tide out of the SEC West. While the road game at Tennessee could be challenging, if the Gators can upset the Georgia Bulldogs down in Jacksonville, they’ll likely win the SEC East and play for a College Football Playoff spot in the SEC title game.

With Penn State, the Nittany Lions don’t have to play the Wisconsin Badgers or the Minnesota Golden Gophers out of the Big Ten West. They get the Ohio State Buckeyes at home, too. Though they have to play the Michigan Wolverines on the road, there is a pathway for the Nittany Lions to go 8-1 or even 9-0 in conference play. If they win in Indianapolis with that mark, they’re getting in.

Though it may feel like splitting hairs at this point, the correct answer is clearly Florida for three reasons and here’s why. One, Penn State has a brutal non-conference game vs. the Virginia Tech Hokies in Blacksburg, while Florida draws a rebuilding Florida State Seminoles team out of the ACC. Virginia Tech is an ACC Coastal contender, while Florida State has no shot at the ACC Atlantic.

Two, Florida plays in the easier of the two divisions when compared to Penn State. Tennessee is getting better in the SEC East, but it’s really only a two-horse race between the Gators and the Dawgs. The Big Ten East has three teams capable of winning 10 games next year in Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State. Michigan is more of a dark horse playoff threat than Tennessee.

Lastly, even if the game is played in State College, it still feels like Florida is more poised to upset Georgia in Jacksonville than the Nittany Lions to knock off the Buckeyes at home. It’s not a sizable gap between any of these four teams, but Kyle Trask gives Florida a better shot to beat Georgia than Sean Clifford does to beat Ohio State. They have to beat Jamie Newman and Justin Fields.

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Overall, Florida and Penn State are in a group of about 20 teams that have a good to a semi-realistic shot of making the College Football Playoff. One could argue these are two of the 10 likeliest teams to pull it off this year. However, Florida’s path to Atlanta is a tad clearer than Penn State’s to Indianapolis. If any team is going to do the thing this year, it’s probably the Gators.

Florida is the clearest choice of any program looking to make the playoff for the first time in 2020.

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