Penn State Finishes Strong, Awaits Bowl Destiny

Mike LewisContributor INovember 22, 2009

STATE COLLEGE, PA - NOVEMBER 7: Head coach Joe Paterno of the Penn State Nittany Lions watches warm-ups before a game against the Ohio State Buckeyes on November 7, 2009 at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania. Ohio State won 24-7. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)
Hunter Martin/Getty Images

After finishing the season on a high note, the Penn State football team will have to wait until Dec. 6 to learn what bowl they will play in.

The Nittany Lions came into Saturday’s game against Michigan State with an outside chance of a BCS bowl bid and were able to keep hope alive with an impressive 42-14 victory.

They will now have to wait and see if they will receive a chance to play in the Fiesta Bowl, the Orange Bowl, the Capital One Bowl, or the Outback Bowl.

Penn State is ranked 13th in the latest BCS standings. This keeps them eligible for a BCS bid, as the top 14 teams are eligible to be chosen for the five BCS bowl games.

The Big Ten is likely to receive two BCS bids, but Iowa is ranked two spots above Penn State at number 11.

With Ohio State already having clinched a Big Ten Championship and a spot in the Rose Bowl, it is likely to come down to Penn State or Iowa for a spot in the Fiesta or Orange Bowl.

The Fiesta Bowl will choose before the Orange Bowl. They have shown an interest in Iowa, but did not send any representatives to Penn State’s game against Michigan State. Many believe that the Fiesta Bowl is unlikely to select Penn State.

If they choose Iowa, that would make for two Big Ten teams in the BCS and end Penn State’s chances.

They could instead choose another team, most likely Oklahoma State, and give the Orange Bowl a chance to choose between Penn State, Iowa, and several other eligible teams.

The Orange Bowl seems like Penn State’s best shot at a BCS bowl. They sent a representative to the game against Michigan State, thus indicating an interest in Penn State.

While Iowa does seem to have an edge over Penn State based on performance, there are several factors in Penn State’s favor.

Penn State has a history with the Orange Bowl, last having played there in 2006 against Florida State. That 2006 game was far more profitable than the past three as the bowl has struggled to attract large groups of fans.

Penn State boasts one of the largest and most well traveled fan bases in the country, a great national reputation, great tradition, and the Joe Paterno factor.

They have also finished with the same record as Iowa and have won more convincingly against several teams.

Many feel that Iowa is more deserving because they beat Penn State 21-10 in Happy Valley, took Ohio State to overtime in Columbus, won against Arizona and Wisconsin, and suffered their only two losses while their starting quarterback was injured.

While this may be true, the bowl selection committees ultimately answer to their corporate sponsors.

A bowl that has struggled to make large profits like the Orange Bowl would find it hard to pass on Penn State, which boasts the nation’s largest paying alumni network.

If Penn State is passed up for a BCS bid, they will most likely play in the Capital One Bowl. This wouldn’t be a total loss as the Capital One Bowl is the Big Ten’s premiere non-BCS bowl, is a New Year’s Day bowl, and is likely to be one of the year’s most anticipated non-BCS bowl games.

It also would provide Penn State a chance to play an SEC team, thus gaining an opportunity to gain a lot of respect for themselves and the conference with a win.

A win in the Capital One Bowl would also give Penn State considerable momentum heading into the offseason, though not as much as a BCS win.

The worst case scenario for Penn State would be an Outback Bowl bid. This could happen if both Penn State and Iowa are passed up in the BCS and Iowa is chosen for the Capital One Bowl.

The Outback Bowl is just a bit below the Capital One Bowl, but it is also a New Year’s Day Bowl against an SEC team.

While it would be a big step back from last year’s Rose Bowl, a spot in this game is something that many programs would love to have and is considerably better than the Alamo Bowl of two years ago.

With the regular season over, Penn State will have to wait for the remaining games to be played and for the selection committees to decide their destination come bowl season.

They have had a very good season, but also came up short in their two biggest games. Whatever bowl they play in, they will have to bring their A game in order to capitalize on the opportunity to end the season with a big victory for the program.