Breaking Down Possible Bowl Destinations
Just two weeks ago, Penn State became bowl eligible for the second straight year with its win against Maryland. Now, the Nittany Lions face the toughest stretch of their schedule with three games coming up against teams currently ranked ahead of them in the AP Top 25 Poll. With seven wins already, a strong finish for the Nittany Lions could assure them an invitation to a quality bowl game, but it will be a tough road for James Franklins’ team.
The Big Ten partners with some bowl games guaranteeing slots for the conference’s teams, so there are already a few possibilities where Penn State may find itself playing. We’ve broken down the locations where the Nittany Lions could end up this postseason.
Maybe One Day, But Not Today: College Football Playoff
Cotton Bowl (in Arlington)
Orange Bowl (in Miami)
National Championship (in Glendale)
Although at least one of these bowl games is very likely to host a Big Ten team, that team will not be Penn State, to no one’s surprise. The Nittany Lions may find themselves in National Championship contention in the future, but we’re talking years from now. For the Nittany Lions to even have a chance at the playoff, they would have to win out in very convincing fashion while the three undefeated Big Ten teams, Ohio State, Michigan State, and Iowa, would have to lose at least twice, and just about every team ahead of the Nittany Lions would need to lose. That’s beyond a miracle.
Unlikely: Lower-Tier Bowls And Previous Bowls
Pinstripe Bowl (in New York City, vs. ACC)
Foster Farms Bowl (in Santa Clara, vs. PAC-12)
Quick Lane Bowl (in Detroit, vs. ACC)
Armed Forces Bowl (in Fort Worth, vs. MWC)
A couple of these bowls feature games against ACC opponents, which may sound intriguing to anybody interested in seeing Penn State play Pitt before next season, but it’s unlikely to happen this postseason. The New Era Pinstripe Bowl wants to have at least eight different opponents with its eight-year agreement with the NCAA, so an invitation to Penn State won’t be sent out since the Nittany Lions just appeared last year. The bright side of all this is the Nittany Lions can count out these lower-tier bowls if they beat at least Northwestern or Michigan. Losing to those two teams could mean Penn State finds itself in a December bowl game.
Likely With A Strong Finish: Top-Tier Bowls
Holiday Bowl (in San Diego, vs. PAC-12)
Outback Bowl (in Tampa, vs. SEC)
Citrus Bowl (in Orlando, vs. SEC)
To get an invitation to these bowls, Penn State needs to beat Northwestern and Michigan. A loss to Michigan State would not spell the end for the Nittany Lions from these top-tier bowls, but a loss to Northwestern or Michigan would likely mean those two teams would get into these bowls, and Penn State would be stuck with a middle-tier bowl or even a lower-tier bowl depending on how the Big Ten aligns them.
Likely With A Weak Finish: Middle-Tier Bowls
Music City Bowl (in Nashville, vs. SEC)
A mediocre finish to the season, such as a 1-2 finish, for Penn State would probably mean a respectable trip to the Music City Bowl and a homecoming of sorts for James Franklin. A game against the SEC would be a good contest for the Nittany Lions, but doing it on New Year’s Day would be much better for Penn State.
With the Big Ten being so close right now, it’s hard to predict where exactly Penn State will end up before it plays some of those quality teams. The easiest way to say it is if the Nittany Lions pull off a 2-1 finish with the only loss coming to Michigan State, they can hope to play in a top-tier bowl on New Year’s Day against an SEC opponent. Otherwise, it all comes down to how the Big Ten shapes up over the next four weeks, which will be a fun few weeks for football fans with all of the quality games coming up. It’s safe to start getting your hopes up about this team though and to enjoy the final three games.