Penn State Football: Projecting a Bowl Game for the Nittany Lions

Adam Jacobi@Adam_JacobiBig Ten Football Lead WriterNovember 28, 2012

STATE COLLEGE, PA - OCTOBER 27: Head coach Bill O'Brien of the Penn State Nittany Lions leads his team onto the field before playing the Ohio State Buckeyes at Beaver Stadium on October 27, 2012 in State College, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

We've spent a little bit of time over the past month trying to figure out what Ohio State's postseason situation would be if, y'know, Ohio State had a postseason. It's a shame the Buckeyes don't by the way, but that's a discussion for another day.

There is another team in the Big Ten that had a postseason taken away from it, though. That would be Penn State. We're not going to get into the details of Penn State's NCAA sanctions; everybody knows what caused them, everybody's got an opinion on whether the sanctions were merited and nobody is going to get their mind changed if all that gets brought up again.

Details aside, what we have at Penn State is a bowl-ineligible team with a very bowl-eligible record, and certainly the fanbase in Happy Valley wishes the season could keep going on just one more game.

So where would Penn State go to a bowl game if it could?

NOTE: For the purposes of this thought exercise, we are not making Ohio State bowl-eligible. Part of it is the uncertainty about whether the Big Ten would get one or two BCS bids depending on the outcome of an Ohio State vs. Nebraska championship game, and another part is because Jim Tressel deliberately played ineligible players without telling anyone and we have no sympathy for scofflaws like that.

First things first, a refresher on the Big Ten standings:

Nebraska 7-1 10-2   Ohio State* 8-0 12-0
Michigan 6-2 8-4   Penn State* 6-2 8-4
Northwestern 5-3 9-3   Wisconsin 4-4 7-5
Michigan State 3-5 6-6   Purdue 3-5 6-6
Minnesota 2-6 6-6   Indiana 2-6 4-8
Iowa 2-6 4-8   Illinois 0-8 2-10


That's a fairly strong position in the conference for Penn State. In fact, the only team with the insurmountable (in terms of bowl seeding) two-game lead on Penn State is Nebraska, and we're projecting Nebraska to the Rose Bowl.

The Capital One Bowl would likely take Michigan, though it'd be a tough choice. Penn State travels extraordinarily well...but so does Michigan, and there'd be no appreciable difference in national attention on the game between the two teams. Past that, it comes down to something as simple as record, and here Michigan's got the advantage.

Do not mourn this development, Penn State fans, because the Capital One Bowl is going to contain one of three teams: Florida, a very angry Georgia or a very angry Alabama. The SEC can only put two teams into the BCS after all, and those three teams are the highest-ranked in the conference with only a title game left to play.

Then there's the Outback Bowl, and here's where things get tricky. Wisconsin's within one game of Penn State, but Northwestern has a two-game edge over the Badgers. 

Between Northwestern and PSU then, Northwestern has the better overall record at 9-3 while Penn State's got the better conference record at 6-2. Penn State won the head-to-head matchup, but it was it was a close enough game in Happy Valley (final 11-point margin aside) that neither team's really got a mandate to get in. 

Northwestern is starting to be not quite the pushover in terms of bowl desirability that it used to be, and a large part of that is the fact that the Wildcats and their fans keep showing up year after year. The problem is that the program still just doesn't move needles the way Penn State's does. Selecting Penn State would be a fairly easy call for the Outback Bowl, and Bill O'Brien can take his charges to a New Year's Day celebration in Tampa as a result.

This would push Northwestern and Wisconsin into the two-game split of the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (formerly the Insight Bowl) and the Gator Bowl. The two bowls swap picks every year, and this year the Gator Bowl picks first. Northwestern would be the easy choice. That sends Wisconsin to the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.

With that, the Meineke Car Care Bowl, Heart of Dallas Bowl and Little Caesar's Bowl would be forced to fight over Michigan State, Purdue and Minnesota; Michigan State is the obvious call here, so off it goes to the land of Meineke or wherever they play that thing.

For the Heart of Dallas Bowl, Minnesota would likely be the pick on account of absolutely crushing Purdue in the regular season. 

The Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl would be left to welcome Purdue, which is basically the Little Caesar's Pizza of Big Ten teams. 

So with a bowl-eligible alternate universe Penn State team, here's how we would project the bowl games:

Rose Bowl: Wisconsin vs. Stanford
Capital One Bowl: Michigan vs. Georgia
Outback Bowl: Penn State vs. South Carolina
Gator Bowl: Northwestern vs. Mississippi State
Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl: Wisconsin vs. Oklahoma State
Meineke Car Care Bowl: Michigan State vs. West Virginia Bowl: Minnesota vs. Iowa State
Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl: Purdue vs. Northern Illinois


So what do you think, Penn State fans? Would the Nittany Lions have a fighting chance at taking down the Gamecocks and finishing the season on a strong note if they had the chance?


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