Evaluating Possible Bowl Destinations After Loss To Northwestern
With Penn State football sitting at 7-3 heading into the bye week, the team has already cemented its bowl eligibility. We broke down possible bowl destinations last week, but this weekend’s loss to Northwestern altered the team’s postseason outlook. We broke down the new bowl destinations the Nittany Lions could find themselves playing at come Bowl Season.
Not A Chance: College Football Playoff
Cotton Bowl (in Arlington)
Orange Bowl (in Miami)
National Championship (in Glendale)
There’s not much to explain here. A three-loss team plummeting in the Big Ten standings won’t make the four-team playoff, and would be lucky to even be ranked this season. There’s still hope for the future, but it’s obviously not happening this year.
Unlikely: Top-Tier Bowls
Holiday Bowl (in San Diego, vs. PAC-12)
Outback Bowl (in Tampa, vs. SEC)
Citrus Bowl (in Orlando, vs. SEC)
Prior to the loss to Northwestern, playing in a New Year’s Day bowl game was a feasible notion for the Nittany Lions. Looking ahead at the schedule after suffering its third loss of the season, Penn State needs a miracle to have a shot at receiving an invitation to one of these bowls. As great as it would be to witness James Franklin’s team taking on a renowned SEC opponent in a bowl game, that’s not in the cards for this season.
Most Likely, Considering Penn State’s Next Two Opponents: Lower-Tier Bowls
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 mediocre finish to the season, a notion that seems more plausible as the Lions enter the toughest portion of the schedule, would almost guarantee the team a spot at one of these sites. Sitting behind Ohio State, Michigan State, Iowa, Northwestern, and Michigan in the Big Ten standings essentially eliminates Penn State from upper to mid-tier bowl consideration.
If the Lions want to avoid being relegated to this level, a victory over Michigan is required. This would put the Nittany Lions ahead of the Wolverines in the Big Ten standings, but a victory is far from guaranteed. It’s borderline unrealistic to assume Penn State wins out, let alone defeat one of its two remaining opponents. If the Lions wind up sputtering, it’s safe to assume they’ll end up at one of three sites listed above.
Possible, With A Strong Finish: Middle-Tier Bowls
Music City Bowl (in Nashville, vs. SEC)
Taxslayer Bowl (in Jacksonville, vs. SEC)
A middle-tier bowl berth for the second year in a row would be a commendable accomplishment for this team considering past circumstances. The Lions found themselves in a similar situation last year after receiving an invitation to Yankee Stadium for the New Era Pinstripe Bowl — a game fondly remembered as Sam Ficken’s defining moment after his walk-off extra point secured Penn State’s first bowl victory since 2010.
The New Era Pinstripe Bowl is another mid-tier bowl that Penn State deserves a bid for. However, the Big Ten’s selection process means Penn State can’t go in consecutive years, so either the Music City Bowl or Taxslayer Bowl figure to be the most likely destinations for the Nittany Lions if the team can finish the year on a high note — something that would include defeating either Michigan or Michigan State, both of which seem like unlikely results at this point.
Correction: A previous version of this story omitted several possible bowl destinations. We have updated it appropriately.