How A Bowl Game Is Suddenly A Reality For Penn State Football In 2020

In a year where unpredictability has reigned supreme, who would’ve thought two weeks ago that an 0-5 Penn State football team would ultimately find itself nearing a bowl game at the season’s end?

A few weeks ago, the prospect of a winless season for the first time in school history seemed entirely realistic.

Following a two-game winning streak sparked by veteran leadership and budding freshmen, the likelihood for Penn State to represent the Big Ten in the postseason is more than possible.

In October, the NCAA waived bowl eligibility requirements for the 2020 season, meaning teams with a regular-season record under .500 could still be selected for a postseason bid. The rule not only benefits the Nittany Lions but the nine (9!) other two-win teams sitting in the thick of the Big Ten standings.

In 2019, nine Big Ten teams competed in postseason contests, with Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Penn State leading the way in three New Year’s Six Bowl matchups. This season, only five non-New Year’s Six Bowl games attract a Big Ten conference affiliate due to the cancellation of the Pinstripe Bowl.

In order for the Nittany Lions to receive an invitation to play a 10th and final game, fans should probably root for the following scenarios to occur:

Penn State Finishes The Season 4-5

For Penn State to compete in the postseason, the Nittany Lions must first and foremost win the remainder of its games. James Franklin’s squad enters Land-Grant Trophy week as favorites against Michigan State but will need to keep its foot on the gas against the upset-minded Spartans.

Additionally, Penn State will need to play, and win, a ninth game to be considered for a bowl berth. However, plans regarding week nine scheduling remain uncertain due to several coronavirus outbreaks throughout the conference.

“It hasn’t even been clearly defined what [the Big Ten Championship Week] is going to look like,” Franklin said Tuesday. “Obviously we had the model before the season started, but we’ve also heard stuff about maybe the Big Ten changing the model based on games being canceled,” Franklin said. “So there are still a lot of things out there that we’re not completely sure on.”

Ohio State & Indiana Need To Win Out

Penn Staters should (reluctantly) root for Ohio State to finish the season in undefeated fashion as conference champions. If the Buckeyes were to lose the conference crown to Northwestern, the Wildcats would most likely be left out of the playoff in favor of either Texas A&M or Florida. The loss would likely slot the Buckeyes in the Citrus Bowl, leaving less room for the Nittany Lions to slide into one of the five non-New Year’s Six matchups.

As for the Hoosiers, finishing the season with two-straight wins would place their regular-season record at a historic 8-1. With just one loss, Indiana would make a strong case for an at-large berth into a New Year’s Six bowl, leaving yet another opening for Penn State to jump into one of the five Big Ten sponsored contests.

Maryland, Nebraska, & Wisconsin Need To Lose-Out

Since Maryland and Nebraska hold the head-to-head advantage over Penn State, the Nittany Lion faithful should root for the Terps and Huskers to lose in weeks eight and nine. If Maryland loses to Rutgers on Saturday, Penn State would hold the tie-breaker over both teams in the Big Ten East standings, slotting the Nittany Lions at third in the division behind Ohio State and Indiana.

Similarly, if Nebraska finishes the regular season with a 2-6 record, Penn State’s 4-5 finish would counter the week-four loss in Lincoln. In most bowl projections, analysts give the Badgers a slight edge over the Nittany Lions despite having played only four games. If Wisconsin loses to Iowa, Penn State would have the clear edge over the Badgers in the race for a bowl berth.

Based on the blueprint above, the conference would have four clear-cut teams outstanding as worthy recipients for a bowl berth in Ohio State, Indiana, Northwestern, and Iowa. With at least two remaining postseason destinations hanging in the balance for the conference, Penn State would secure a berth as the third-best team in the Big Ten East based on tie-breakers.

Without playing the “what-if” game, Penn State must “control the controllables,” in the words of James Franklin. A four-game winning streak would place the Nittany Lions in a more-than-favorable spot for a seventh-straight bowl appearance. With a bowl game victory and a 5-5 finish, Penn State would avoid its first losing season since 2004.

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About the Author

Connor Krause

Connor Krause is a senior from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania double majoring in journalism and business. He is a lifelong Penn State football and basketball fan and enjoys rooting for Pittsburgh sports teams. In his free time, Connor can be found playing golf or pick-up basketball. You can follow his Twitter and Instagram @ckrause_31.

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