Penn State Football: What Bowl Would Nittany Lions Play in Sans Sanctions?

Troy Weller@@troywellerContributor IIIDecember 4, 2013

Penn State Football: What Bowl Would Nittany Lions Play in Sans Sanctions?

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    Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

    Despite being 24-point underdogs this past weekend, the Penn State Nittany Lions walked into Camp Randall Stadium and knocked off Wisconsin to move to 7-5 on the year.

    They finished the season 4-4 in conference play, tied with Minnesota. If you give the Gophers the benefit of the doubt—since they won the head-to-head battle—Penn State finished as the seventh best team overall in the Big Ten.

    In total, eight teams from the conference meet the win total requirement (six wins) for bowl eligibility. Penn State is one of those teams, but unfortunately can't play in the postseason this year due to sanctions. That drops the Big Ten's bowl participants in 2013 down to seven. 

    However, if they could, where would the Nittany Lions be most likely to end up?

    First, let's take a look at the Big Ten's bowl tie-ins.   

Big Ten Bowl Selection Process

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    The Big Ten has eight bowl tie-ins in 2013. How the process works is simple—a certain bowl game's committee with a tie-in chooses a team based off a selection order.

    The Rose Bowl picks first, taking the Big Ten title game champion to represent the conference as the BCS automatic bid. If another Big Ten team ranks high enough in the BCS standings, it could be invited by another BCS bowl committee as an at-large bid. 

    According to a list from the Chicago Sun-Times, the selection order of Big Ten teams following the BCS process is as follows: 

    1. Capital One Bowl
    2. Outback Bowl
    3. Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl
    4. Gator Bowl
    5. Texas Bowl 
    6. Heart of Dallas Bowl
    7. Little Caesars Pizza Bowl 

    Keeping the selection order in mind, here are the three most likely locations where Penn State would have headed in late December.   

3. Heart of Dallas Bowl

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    Penn State could have ended up in this game if things didn't work out for the Big Ten in the BCS.

    With the seasons that both Ohio State (12-0) and Michigan State (11-1) had, it's almost unreasonable to think that the Big Ten won't have two teams in BCS bowls. Despite both playing in this weekend's Big Ten title game, it's hard to see the loser slipping out of contention for an at-large berth. Right now, both teams are ranked high in the BCS standings. 

    In the unlikely event that the loser of the Big Ten title game were denied an at-large BCS bid—specifically Michigan State, if the Spartans were to falter—the dominoes would fall in such a way that each team would be bumped down a peg in terms of bowl seeding and the selection order.

    At this point, Penn State would probably be headed to the Heart of Dallas Bowl. 

    This game's committee has the seventh selection, which is exactly where Penn State is in the standings. 

    Recently rebranded, the Heart of Dallas Bowl used to be known as the TicketCity Bowl. Penn State played in the 2012 installment of the game—represented by the patch on defensive tackle DaQuan Jones' jersey above—and lost 30-14 to the Houston Cougars. 

2. Gator Bowl

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    If the Gator Bowl committee was more concerned with revenue than rewarding a team's success, it's possible Penn Staters could have found themselves in Jacksonville for a winter vacation.

    If Ohio State and Michigan State both received BCS bids, the Gator Bowl would be in line to select Minnesota. The Gophers fall in as the conference's sixth best team, one position higher than Penn State. 

    However, that doesn't necessarily mean they are entitled to a higher bowl slot. 

    For the Gator Bowl committee, deciding to bring in Penn State over Minnesota would make sense from a revenue standpoint. This year, Penn State ranked fifth nationally in home game attendance. The Nittany Lions are known for having one of the larger followings in all of college football. The same can't be said for Minnesota. 

    If the folks from the Gator Bowl wanted the best for their game and the city of Jacksonville, bypassing a team with a slightly better record in favor of one that is known to draw crowds would have been the right move. 

    Penn State has played in the Gator Bowl four times, going 1-2-1. Their last appearance was in 1976.  

1. Texas Bowl

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    Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

    While the other situations would have certainly been possible, heading to Houston would have been the most likely scenario. 

    If the Big Ten were able to eat up two BCS bids by way of Ohio State and Michigan State, there would technically then be six teams left to fill bowl slots with. Penn State would be fifth on that list, ranked ahead of Michigan.

    Despite having the same overall record as the Wolverines, the Nittany Lions finished ahead of them (3-5) in Big Ten play.

    It would be hard for the Texas Bowl committee to justify selecting Michigan over Penn State—the two schools have comparable fanbases and Michigan has underperformed in the second half of the season. 

    When taking into account the selection order and the probability the Big Ten has two teams in the BCS, this is the truest form with which to project Penn State's hypothetical bowl situation.

    Penn State has never played in the Texas Bowl.