The busy day of bowl action on Jan. 2 kicks off with the TicketCity bowl at noon Eastern from the Cotton Bowl in Dallas when No. 17 Houston (12-1) faces off against No. 23 Penn State (9-3).
It will be curious to see how motivated the Cougars are for this one. Houston was unbeaten and in line for its first BCS bowl before running into a pretty good Southern Miss team in the Conference USA Championship Game and falling 49-28 (that was the only ranked team Houston played this season).
That swearing you heard soon after was from C-USA officials ticked off that their conference lost nearly $18 million by not getting into a BCS bowl. It also turned out to be the final game on the Houston sideline for head coach Kevin Sumlin, who now is at Texas A&M.
Randy Levine, the assistant head coach and special teams coordinator under Sumlin, was quickly named the interim coach—then not long after was given the full-time job. It’s the first head-coaching gig for the 39-year-old. The Cougars are ditching C-USA for the Big East effective the 2013 season.
Meanwhile, Penn State officials probably can’t wait to put the year 2011 in the rearview mirror in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal that rocked the nation and cost several Penn State folks their jobs (and potential jail sentences)—including legendary head coach Joe Paterno. Certainly that scandal made the Nittany Lions toxic to some bowls, and it’s why they ended up at a lower-tier bowl than they deserved from a pure results standpoint.
The TicketCity Bowl had the seventh selection after the BCS of bowls with Big Ten tie-ins. That means other bowls selected Iowa (7-5), Northwestern (6-6) and Ohio State (6-6) over Penn State. The Nittany Lions beat all three of those teams and obviously had a much better record.
Penn State announced it would donate its share of conference bowl proceeds this year—about $1.5 million—to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. The revenue usually goes back to the athletic department.
Defensive coordinator Tom Bradley coached the Lions’ final few games and will again here. The Lions played well in their first two games under Bradley, a close loss at home to Nebraska right after the Paterno firing and an upset of Ohio State. But PSU was crushed, 45-7, in its regular season finale by Wisconsin.
Bradley has interviewed for the full-time job, but most believe that PSU will go outside the Nittany Lions “immediate family” to get a fresh start. They are hoping to get Boise State’s Chris Petersen, but that’s unlikely and there are reports he already has turned the school down.
Penn State got another black eye when starting quarterback Matt McGloin got into a locker-room fight with receiver Curtis Drake a little over a week ago. McGloin suffered a concussion and a seizure; he says was knocked unconscious when he hit his head on the concrete floor of the locker room during the fight, which he said included several punches and lasted about 10 seconds. It’s still not clear if McGloin can play.
In addition, backup Rob Bolden was cited recently for retail theft by university police for taking a bottle of Gatorade from a convenience store on campus. Bolden started the first seven games of the season and split time with McGloin before McGloin saw most the snaps in the final three games of the season. Bolden was disciplined internally—as were McGloin and Drake, apparently (both are still listed as questionable)—but appears to be in line to start if McGloin can’t go.
No matter who starts, PSU will rely mostly on RB Silas Redd, who has rushed for 1,188 yards and seven touchdowns.
Houston has no quarterback problems. This season Case Keenum threw for more than 5,000 yards for the third time in his career (first player to do so), along with a career-high 45 touchdown passes. The sixth-year senior became the FBS career leader in total offense, yards passing and touchdown passes.
Behind Keenum, Houston led the nation in passing (443.8 yards per game), total offense (599.0 ypg) and scoring (50.8 points per game). However, this will be easily the best defense the Cougars have faced. Penn State, led by Big Ten defensive player of the year Devon Still, finished fifth nationally in scoring defense and 10th in yards allowed.
The game will be the third meeting between the two schools and first since 1977. They didn’t face a common opponent this season.
2012 TicketCity Bowl Odds and Trends
Houston is a 6.5-point favorite with the total at 56.5 on NCAA football odds. A little more than 60 percent of the lean is on the Cougars. PSU is 3-8-1 ATS this season, while Houston is 10-3. Over/under records: UH 8-5, PSU 2-9-1.
Penn State is 0-5 ATS in past five nonconference games and 1-5-1 ATS in past seven games as a dog. Houston has covered just once in past five bowl games. The Cougars are 0-5 ATS in past five as a favorite of 3.5 to 10 points.
The under is 7-1-1 in Penn State’s past nine vs. teams with a winning record. The over is 4-1 in Houston’s past five nonconference games.
2012 TicketCity Bowl Predictions and Betting Preview
This one is very tough to call because I have no idea which Penn State team shows up; you pretty much know what you are getting with Houston.
The Lions will try to pound the ball and eat the clock—it probably doesn’t much matter whether McGloin or Bolden starts.
The only BCS conference team that Houston played this year was a lousy UCLA club, and the Cougars only won that one 38-34.
Thus I think Penn State does cover. Go with the over, however. Final score: PSU 35, Houston 30.
Doc Moseman is the owner of Doc's Sports football picks Web site.