Although the Penn State Nittany Lions are not eligible for postseason play for the next four years, that doesn't mean they don't have anything to play for. There are still big games on the schedule that are important in determining the success of their season.
The 2012 Nittany Lions are playing for pride, and a hope that a successful season could go a long way to help with recruiting. If the Lions can manage to sneak into the top 25, recruits may look at the school differently.
This list looks at five games that could make or break the Penn State season. Some of the games are rivalry games, some are against unfamiliar foes.
Victories in these five games could help the Nittany Lions climb the rankings ladder, and bring some positive feelings to State College.
On the flip side, losses in any or all of these games will hurt Penn State in both the rankings and the way they are perceived by the public. Fair-weather fans may lose interest in the teams, and the national experts will predict losing seasons in the future.
These games are important in determining how the 2012 Penn State Nittany Lions football team is remembered.
Penn State will be tested early in 2012. The Nittany Lions are used to opening with foes such as Indiana State and Youngstown State, but not this year. The Ohio Bobcats bring a solid team into Happy Valley to start the season.
The Bobcats finished last year with a 10-4 record, including a victory in the Idaho Potato Bowl over Utah State. Returning quarterback Tyler Tettleton leads the offense that ranked 43rd in passing yards and 34th in rushing yards.
This is an important game for Penn State. Fans at Beaver Stadium will be excited and anxious to usher in a new era of Penn State football.
This is a must-win game for the Lions—a home victory against a solid opponent will get the season started off on the right foot. A loss to Ohio will make the already uphill climb this season a little tougher.
A loss could derail any hopes Penn State has for a successful season.
The Nittany Lions get a tough road test in week two of the season when they travel to Charlottesville to take on Virginia. The Cavaliers were 8-5 last year and return key starters on both sides of the ball.
This is a key game for the Nittany Lions, as it's a road game against a BCS conference foe. A victory against the Cavs could look good to AP voters. Early-season road wins against good competition can boost a team's confidence moving forward.
A loss in this game could hurt the Nittany Lions in the eyes of the voters and make it difficult for them to get their 2012 season on the right track.
Iowa has been a thorn in the side of the Nittany Lions for the last decade. The Nittany Lions hope to change that this season when they travel to take on the Hawkeyes on October 20 in a prime-time matchup.
This is a huge road test for Penn State. The Hawkeyes were down last year (7-6), and figure to be about the same this year. This should be a close battle of two Big Ten foes who are not at their peak.
This game is a must-win if the Nittany Lions want to have a decent 2012. Any road win is huge, especially against a conference rival.
If the Nittany Lions win in this hostile environment, it will give Penn State a major confidence boost heading into the meat of the Big Ten schedule.
The rival Buckeyes head to Happy Valley on October 27. This game always has a lot of buzz around it. This year, the Urban Meyer-led Bucks should be heavy favorites.
No one should be expecting much from the Lions in this game. However, the fact that it's at Beaver Stadium should help the cause. The atmosphere in Beaver Stadium always seems electric when Ohio State visits for a nationally televised game.
The Lions' defense will look to shut down quarterback Braxton Miller and control the tempo of the game.
A loss in this game may not break the season, as it would not be surprising to anyone. However, an upset victory will look very good for this Lions squad.
A huge victory in the second half of the season could go a long way to see the Nittany Lions land in the AP Top 25.
A trip to Lincoln, Nebraska brings another expected Nittany Lions loss. The Cornhuskers should be ranked in this game and therefore be a huge favorite at home. Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead both return in 2012 to lead the potent 'Huskers offense.
Like in the OSU game, Penn State will be an underdog, and a loss at Nebraska should not hurt their position in the polls too bad.
If Matt McGloin and the Nittany Lions can figure out a way to escape with a victory, the nation will have to take notice.
Postseason or not, if the 2012 Nittany Lions can reel off some key victories, they may find themselves situated in the Top 25 come season's end.