Penn State Football: Nittany Lions Can Still Play Spoiler in Rose Bowl

Darin Pike@darinpikeContributor INovember 10, 2012

STATE COLLEGE, PA - OCTOBER 27: Running back Michael Zordich #9 of the Penn State Nittany Lions pumps up teammates before they play 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

Penn State isn't eligible for postseason play this year but that doesn't mean the football team doesn't want to leave a mark on the Big Ten. The Nittany Lions can send a strong message to their conference and their recruits, not to mention hindering Nebraska's road to the Big Ten Championship Game, with a win on Saturday afternoon.

If not for its NCAA sanctions, Penn State would be in the thick of the race to the Rose Bowl. It stands at 4-1 in the conference (6-3 overall) and a game ahead of Wisconsin.

Ohio State is at the top of the Leaders Division (10-0, 6-0) but isn't eligible for postseason play, either. This leaves the division's third-place team, Wisconsin (6-3, 3-2) in line to play for the conference title.

While certainly not a guarantee, it seems as though the team that emerges from the Legends Division will win the Big Ten Championship Game. That will likely be Nebraska or Michigan.

They are tied with 4-1 conference records, but Nebraska holds the head-to-head tiebreaker. If they win out, the Cornhuskers are headed to the Rose Bowl. To be fair, they play Wisconsin and then they are off to Pasadena.

With those assumptions, Penn State has an opportunity to make its mark on the 2013 Rose Bowl game.

With a Penn State win over Nebraska, Michigan is once again alive for a trip to the title game. The Wolverines will need to win their next two games (Northwestern and Iowa at home), which would lead to their finale against Ohio State.

If they beat the Buckeyes, the Wolverines would have the inside track to the Rose Bowl.

Penn State and its fans would certainly like to have a bigger impact than playing spoiler and keeping another team from reaching the Granddaddy of Them All. For now, though, the Nittany Lions will take moral victories where they can. 

There is one more little win available. If Penn State wins out and Ohio State loses to a motivated Wolverine squad, the two Leaders Division schools would be tied for the division title.

Neither team qualifies for the Big Ten Championship Game, but they can still claim regular season titles.

Finishing tied with Ohio State will help with recruiting. In turn, it will keep Penn State competitive while the Nittany Lions ride out their suspension.

Darin Pike is a writer for Bleacher Report's Breaking News Team and a Featured Columnist covering the NFL and the Seattle Seahawks.


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