Did Penn State's Loss to Iowa Crush the Nittany Lions' Bowl Eligibility?

Sean StebnerContributor IOctober 6, 2010

TUSCALOOSA, AL - SEPTEMBER 11:  Devon Smith #20 of the Penn State Nittany Lions against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Bryant-Denny Stadium on September 11, 2010 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Another year, another loss to the Hawkeyes. Penn State is now officially sub-.500 against Iowa.

It's tough to dismiss all the issues the Nittany Lions are having in their 2010 campaign, but this is getting ridiculous.

I won't be as brash as to say Robert Bolden should be benched, or worse, that this is a sign of the Joe Paterno Apocalypse, and like his friend Bobby Bowden, he should be pushed out of his position as coach.

What I will say is the loss to Iowa seriously endangers Penn State's chances of reaching a sixth straight bowl game. At this point the Rose Bowl can be safely written off, but even reaching something like, I don't know, the Outback Bowl, is a bit of a stretch.

"Slander!" you might say, but before we look ahead, let's do a bit of recapping.  

As of today, Penn State is 3-2. In terms of bowl eligibility, this isn't a bad start. All you need to qualify is a winning record. So in a typical 12-game season, that's seven wins. Technically you can qualify with six if all of the winning teams have been chosen, but let's stick with seven to be sure.

So for Penn State to reach the 43rd bowl game in its storied history, it just needs to be above .500 from here out, or 4-3. In the "lowly" Big Ten, that should be no problem, right?


Let's dissect the Nittany Lions' remaining schedule: Illinois, @ Minnesota, Michigan, Northwestern, @ Ohio State, Indiana, Michigan State

The most noticeable thing is only two away games, so the team spends plenty of time in Happy Valley, where they're undefeated. A positive, no doubt.

What's not as obvious is the three AP-ranked and four USA Today-ranked teams Penn State plays. In seven games. That's a certified negative.

Best-case scenario, you cross off the (IMO) underranked No. 17 Michigan Wolverines and the No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes as losses.

That leaves Illinois, Minnesota, the USA Today-ranked No. 25 Northwestern Wildcats, Indiana, and the No. 17 (USA-16) Michigan State Spartans for Penn State to nab four wins.

Illinois is giving up over 300 yards per game on defense; this will certainly assist Penn State's struggling offense. What it comes down to is the ability to stop Mikel LeShoure. That happens and it's a win.

Next is Minnesota. They've struggled all season and are the only team left on Penn State's schedule (and the only team in the Big Ten) with a losing record. Despite giving Northwestern a ton of trouble last week, I have to assume Penn State can beat the Golden Gophers.

Two wins. That's halfway. Except here's where things get a bit muddy.

I'll tackle Indiana first. Indiana's fourth-ranked passing offense, led by Ben Chappell, has been seemingly unstoppable. In four games, Chappell's thrown for 1,370 yards, 12 touchdowns, and one interception. That's Manning-esque. Most recently he completed 45 of 64 attempts for 480 yards, three touchdowns, and a pick against Michigan.

Needless to say, this matchup is significantly more troublesome for Penn State than it seemed at the dawn of the season.

Then there's undefeated Northwestern. You can argue they haven't beaten anyone good, and you'd be right. But you have to contend with the fact that their quarterback, Dan Persa, is a serious dual threat and can cause a team that's shaky at linebacker (Penn State) a lot of problems.

On top of passing for over 1,300 yards, he's run for nearly 300 more. So while he's not exactly Michael Vick, he's an athlete who can alter an opposing team's strategy.

Finally, there's old Sparty. Michigan State is rattling off wins left and right and is actually ranked higher than its in-state counterpart in both the AP and the USA Today polls. Behind Edwin Baker and freshman Le'Veon Bell, they're 20th in the country in rushing. They're winning by an average of 36-19. If Penn State can't find a way to slow MSU's dynamic duo, it'd be an honest miracle to win, even at home.

So let's say after eight games the Nittany Lions are 5-3 with a "guaranteed" loss to Ohio State two weeks later. To reach 7-5 and bowl eligibility, Joe Paterno needs to rally his troops to two wins in three of those four rather dreary-looking games.

Now, I'm no pessimist—oh wait, yes I am—but what it comes down to is, barring Penn State outplaying their current makeup or pulling out a fairly large upset, the blue and white could be sitting home in late December and early January watching the NFL playoffs instead of fighting for their own shiny trophy.


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