Which bowl game is Penn State going to?


With Penn State heading into a bye week after losing on the road at Northwestern, now feels like a good time to start digging into the bowl possibilities for the Nittany Lions. With two games still to play and Penn State already eligible for postseason play, there are a number of possibilities for where Penn State could go bowling this bowl season. There are a few bowls we know Penn State will not be going; the Rose Bowl the Orange Bowl or the Citrus Bowl. After that, it is still anybody’s guess.

First thing’s first, we need to know if there will be a Big Ten team participating in the College Football Playoff. Right now, Ohio State appears to be sitting in a good position to do so for a second straight season, but Iowa continues to linger in the playoff picture and Michigan State can still bounce back. Regardless of whether or not the Big Ten has a team in the playoff, the Rose Bowl will invite a Big Ten team to play in Pasadena, whether Big Ten champion or not. If it is not the Big Ten champion, the Big Ten championship game runner-up would probably be the most likely to receive an invitation from the folks in Pasadena.

For now, let’s go under the assumption Ohio State wins the Big Ten and plays in one of the two College Football Playoff games and Iowa wins the Big Ten West. That likely sends Iowa to the Rose Bowl, although the Rose Bowl would love to be able to invite Michigan if possible, and that still is possible. After the Rose Bowl gets its team, the Orange Bowl committee gets to request a team from the Big Ten. With the Orange Bowl hosting a semifinal game this year, the Citrus Bowl will get a Big Ten selection instead. That likely will go to either Michigan State or Michigan.

After getting through the playoff, Rose Bowl and Orange Bowl/Citrus Bowl line-up, the Big Ten begins working with its remaining bowl partners to find the best possible matchups and destination for the benefit of the conference and bowl partner. That means the Big Ten could help move Penn State to any of its remaining bowl partners in San Diego, Detroit, New York or in Texas or Florida and anywhere in between.

Because Penn State tends to bring a good traveling crowd with it, the Big Ten may have more flexibility in where it sends the Nittany Lions. the latest bowl projections have a varied opinion on where Penn State ends up. Mark Schlabach of ESPN.com has Penn State paired up with Georgia in the TaxSlayer Bowl (I like to still call it the Gator Bowl), which would be a fun matchup 33 years after first meeting for the national title in the Sugar Bowl. SB Nation’s updated projections have Penn State in the same bowl, but up against Ole Miss. The uniform matchup would be phenomenal as well. Also on ESPN.com, Brett McMurphy has Penn State taking on Tennesse in the Music City Bowl in Nashville. James Franklin’s return to Nashville against the Vols is a story that writes itself, but Cory Giger brings up a good point about this possibility…

Maybe Franklin’s return to Nashville would be a negative story for the conference, but in the end money speaks and a Penn State vs. Tennessee matchup would be an attractive one in a great bowl city. So if not the Music City Bowl, where will Penn State ultimately play in the bowl season? Again, it is so wide open right now.

Another bowl we can likely rule out is the Pinstripe Bowl. Penn State just played in the game last year, topping Boston College. The Pinstripe Bowl has never taken the same team two years in a row, and the Big Ten would likely prefer to send a new team to the Big Apple, even if Penn State would help sell tickets easier than some other potential options for the Big Ten. Keep in mind Rutgers is one loss away from being ineligible for the postseason and they have played in two Pinstripe Bowls already. Maryland is also out of the postseason, and Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State will be going to higher-end bowl games. Penn State actually starts to look like a more ideal bowl team to represent the Big Ten, but the conference will only do so as a last resort. The Pinstripe Bowl agreement is aimed at having eight different teams participate in the game in eight years, but the minimum is six different teams over eight years. Sending Penn State back now would remove some of the bowl flexibility down the line. Maybe Northwestern gets sent here.

The Other Big Ten Bowl Games

Outback Bowl, Holiday Bowl, Foster Farms Bowl, Quick Lane Bowl, Armed Forces Bowl

Michigan is currently on track to be the most likely option for the Outback Bowl, although Penn State can change that with a head-to-head win against the Wolverines in two weeks. Michigan was in the Outback Bowl three years ago, and Penn State has not made the trip since 2010. The Outback Bowl is likely going to go to the team that finishes in third place in the Big Ten East, so the upcoming game against the Wolverines could determine Penn State’s and Michigan’s bowl fate, or at least make it more clear. Wisconsin would seem to be a nice option as well, but the Badgers were just in the game last season against Auburn so they will likely be placed in another bowl setting.

If not in the Outback Bowl, the Holiday Bowl would be the next best destination. Penn State has played in the game just once (1989, vs. BYU), and there are worse places to go in late December than San Diego. The problem is this appears to be a bowl game that will get a team from the Big Ten West. I think Wisconsin ends up being that team. Nebraska would have been a candidate, but the Huskers played in the game last season. If Nebraska manages to get to be bowl eligible, they may head to the Foster Farms Bowl in Santa Clara, California. If the Huskers do not reach the six-win minimum and if Penn State misses out on the Outback Bowl and the Holiday Bowl, which are real possibilities, then start planning for a trip to Santa Clara, California to see Penn State in the Foster Farms Bowl in Levi’s Stadium, home of the San Francisco 49ers. This is likely the worst-case scenario destination for Penn State at this point, as sending Penn State to Detroit or Fort-Worth or Dallas will likely be reserved for the bottom of the Big Ten bowl pool (Illinois, Nebraska, Minnesota).


Best case bowl destination for Penn State appears to be the Outback Bowl. Worst case could be the Foster Farms Bowl in Santa Clara, California.

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