But those concerns were unfounded, as the Nittany Lions are headed to the TicketCity Bowl on Jan. 2 where they'll face a Houston team that didn't suffer its first loss of the year until last weekend in the Conference USA championship game.
Despite being 9-3 and having tied for the new Leaders Division title in the Big Ten, Penn State was the eighth conference team picked for a bowl. But acting athletic director Dave Joyner said that he did not get the feeling that bowls wanted to pass over the Lions for any particular reason.
Not at all, everyone was very understanding of Penn State, he said. They know our core value system is solid and our spirit is good. They know we had a big problem that occurred, but they were very complimentary of our fans. I was very warmly received.
Joyner said there was never a doubt in his mind that the program would go to a bowl. In fact, he feels it's crucial to play in the post-season to show how the school is recuperating.
We have a pledge to fight and help victims of child rape and abuse and we thought [going to a bowl game] was a great way to show young men how to continue on in adversity and show the world you can do something good to help with this, he said.
We're never going to forget. We can't ever forget. We have to be reverent and respectful, but we have to get back up and back to business and that's the way we can continue to do so.
Joyner and interim head coach Tom Bradley are excited for Penn State to face Houston and both expect a packed Cotton Bowl.
We think our fans will show up, they always do, Bradley said. The students have been there for us the whole way through. I don't think this would be any different.
Bradley doesn't expect it will be difficult for his team to get up for the bowl game despite the drama that's surrounded the university.
It'll be different; wouldn't say it's difficult, he said. I prefer to play the bowl game. It's a great opportunity for us.
He mentioned that his players had a meeting to discuss how they felt about playing in it and all expressed their personal views. He wouldn't go into detail, but said that this game is special and important for the team, the seniors and the fan base.
In the past, the Lions would typically fly out en route to the city of their bowl game before Christmas, but this year, the team will land in Dallas Dec. 26. They'll practice everyday up until the game, starting on the 27th.
For academic reasons, Bradley said the team has taken off last week and this week, but will practice Friday and Saturday. Then they'll be off for finals, pick things back up next Friday, get in six days of practice, let the players go home for Christmas, then head to Dallas.
When asked his initial thoughts on playing the Cougars, Bradley laughed and said, I'm glad I'm not the defensive coordinator, I'm sure they'll be pulling their hair out. Bradley had been defensive coordinator of the Lions before being promoted to interim head coach.
Bradley said he's obviously impressed with Case Keenum, one of three finalists up for the Davey O'Brien Award, honoring the nation's best quarterback. Keenum leads the nation with 5,099 passing yards and 45 touchdowns against five interceptions.
Bradley also mentioned wide receiver Tyron Carrier as a player who makes Houston's offense dangerous.
I just want to know what that punter does all game, Bradley joked. What does he do? I saw they had a punter listed, I didn't know they had one. I wonder what he does. His golf game must be pretty good or something.
Penn State and Houston will play in the actual Cotton Bowl stadium, though they're not playing in the Cotton Bowl, which is played at Cowboys Stadium.
The Cotton Bowl is still the Cotton Bowl, Bradley said. There have been some great football games played there and history is still history. We're excited.