Where Will Penn State Be Bowling This Postseason?
Just three short weeks ago, the Penn State football team was 4-0 and looking like a contender in the Big Ten East division.
After a two-game losing streak against teams with sub-.500 records, however, the Nittany Lions don’t look like they will be vying for the conference crown after all.
But despite all the problems the team seems to face now, Penn State is still eligible to go to a bowl at the end of the year. Sitting at 4-2 at the season’s halfway mark, the team only needs two more wins in the final six games to guarantee itself a postseason berth for the first time since the 2011 season.
This year, the Big Ten has adopted a new format for assigning bowl games to teams. Instead of the traditional way of using the standings directly, the teams will be placed in tiers at the end of the year, and the conference will team with the bowl games to decide where each team goes within its specific tier. The goal is to avoid making teams travel to the same part of the country multiple times in a short span.
This sounds confusing, but we’ve broken down where Penn State is most likely to end up this postseason using the new tiered system.
Not A Chance In Hell: College Football Playoff / The “New Year’s Six”
Orange Bowl (in Miami)
Fiesta Bowl (in Tempe, Ariz.)
Sugar Bowl (in New Orleans)
Rose Bowl (in Pasadena, Ca.)
Peach Bowl (in Atlanta)
Cotton Bowl (in Dallas)
I like to dream too, but right now, there is no way Penn State makes it into the playoff race. Penn State would have to win out to even have a chance at a New Year’s Bowl, while the playoff is as close to impossible as it gets.
Also Unlikely: Top-Tier Bowls
Capital One Bowl (in Orlando, vs. SEC)
Outback Bowl (in Tampa, vs. SEC)
Holiday Bowl (in San Diego, vs. PAC-12)
I want to keep believing in a magical late season run, but the past two performances from the Lions have really made it tough. Last season, the trio of Big Ten teams who played in the top-tier bowls (last season, the Gator was in that category) finished their regular seasons with three or four losses: Wisconsin was 9-3, while Iowa and Nebraska came in at 8-4.
These records are technically attainable for the Nittany Lions, but with Ohio State and Michigan State representing two very likely losses, I wouldn’t count on it. Indiana and Maryland are no cakewalks either.
Most Likely: Middle-Tier Bowls
Pinstripe Bowl (in New York City, vs. ACC)
Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl (in San Francisco, vs. PAC-12)
Music City Bowl (in Nashville) / Gator Bowl (in Jacksonville, vs. SEC)
So, here we are at the middle-of-the-pack bowl games, where all signs point to for the Nittany Lions. Out of the three, the New Era Pinstripe Bowl is the most attainable. Last season, a 6-6 Rutgers squad duked it out with 9-3 Notre Dame, resulting in a fun game that saw Notre Dame come out on top, 29-16. Though a reasonable projection at the moment only has Penn State finishing 4-4 in conference play, these bowls would die for the storyline and fan base associated with Penn State in a bowl game.
I’m a big fan of the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, mostly because it’s played in Yankee Stadium. Hey, the Nittany Lions are 1-0 when playing in (or around) New York City recently. The Big Ten Network also has the Lions in the Pinstripe Bowl right now against Virginia Tech.
Let’s Hope This Doesn’t Happen: Lower-Tier Bowls
Quick Lane Bowl (in Detroit, vs. ACC)
Heart of Dallas Bowl (in Dallas vs. Conference USA)
Armed Forces Bowl (in Fort Worth, vs. Big 12)
These are the types of bowl games that teams play in for the experience, love of the game, and the almighty dollar. Let’s face it, if your team wins something called “The Heart of Dallas Bowl,” you don’t start parading down the street and partying into the night. That said, at least Penn State would be back in the postseason again even if it lands in this category.
Worst Case Scenario:
Before you throw stones, remember that you watched the same Penn State team play Michigan and Northwestern that I did. Though Illinois and Temple should be games that the Lions win, it is entirely possible that Penn State stays in its offensive funk, becomes plagued by its incompetent running game, porous offensive line, slumping play by Christian Hackenberg, and finishes below .500. It’s not likely, but keeping hopes down might be prudent right now.