By Teddy Greenstein, Chicago Tribune

The rout was on.

Wisconsin led by three touchdowns late in the second quarter and then sandwich-sacked Penn State’s Trace McSorley on fourth down to take over at the Penn State 43-yard line. Drive home safely, folks.

And then … the rout was off.

This is vintage Penn State, a team that goes from kittens to Nittany Lions once the second half starts.

Penn State rallied for a remarkable 38-31 victory for its first Big Ten title since 2008 under coach Joe Paterno.

Now James Franklin is at the helm, and his responses to questions from Fox Sports’ Rob Stone on the field after the game brought roars from the tens of thousands of Penn State fans that flooded Lucas Oil Stadium.

The big-picture question for Penn State: What comes next?

There are five teams worthy of inclusion in the College Football Playoff — Alabama, Ohio State,Clemson, Washington and Penn State — and only four spots.

The great reveal comes at 11:30 a.m. today on ESPN.

Stone listed Penn State’s accomplishments and then asked Franklin if his team deserved a spot in the final four.

After the coach asked Stone to rattle off the accomplishments again, he yelled: “What I do know is we just won the toughest conference in college football. We’ve won nine straight (games), and they say you’re allowed to overcome early-season setbacks. It’s on you, now, the committee!”

McSorley, the game MVP who completed 22 of 31 passes for 384 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions, wisely sidestepped the same question: “Coach said what he needed to say. I’ll leave it at that.”

Many Americans will howl if the Buckeyes get in over the Nittany Lions, given the result of their meeting Oct. 22. That night the Cubs earned a spot in the World Series, and Penn State rallied from 21-7 down to stun Ohio State 24-21 in State College, Pa.

But the CFP’s final rankings are based on an entire season, not one night. Ohio State lost once and its resume is flush with big victories; Penn State went down twice.

The only certainties are that Alabama will be the No. 1 seed, and that the Crimson Tide will be favored to pound whoever lines up against them in Atlanta.

Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany visited the set of ESPN’s “College GameDay” on Saturday but didn’t lobby for his league champion. He sought to establish that 11-1 Ohio State had locked in a berth, along with Alabama.

“I think Ohio State has done enough,” he said. “So what we have, I think, is two (open) spots — and three to five teams fighting for those. Conference champion is relevant, but also who you played, who you beat, who you played in nonconference.”

Ohio State has the best nonconference victory among the Big Ten contenders, having throttled Oklahoma on the road in Week 3. Since that day, the Sooners are 9-0 and won the Big12.

Delany didn’t mention Washington, which entered Friday’s Pac-12 title game fourth in the CFP rankings and then crushed Colorado 41-10. It would take some serious creativity to deny a Pac-12 champion that lost only to a surging USC.

Same for Clemson, which entered the night No. 3 and outlasted Virginia Tech 42-35 in the ACC title game. The Tigers’ lone loss was a one-pointer to Pitt.

Penn State’s case: Champion of the best conference in college football; nine straight victories thanks to an offense that might even make Alabama sweat; a triumph over No. 2 Ohio State; a victory over AAC champion Temple — plus victories over bowl teams Minnesota, Maryland, Iowa and Indiana; a respectable loss at Pitt, which beat Clemson. Sure, Penn State was throttled 49-10 at Michigan, but it practically had to use band members at linebacker after a rash of injuries.

The team also has what cannot be measured — heart.

Penn State outscored Wisconsin 24-3 after intermission, giving it a 239-56 second-half edge over its last nine opponents.

The Nittany Lions took their first lead early in the fourth quarter on a gorgeous play — McSorley hit Saquon Barkley on a wheel route for an 18-yard score.

They stuffed Corey Clement on a fourth-and-1 with 1:01 to play and then ran out the clock.

Penn State’s performance was enough to win Saturday.

How ’bout Sunday?

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