For the sake of argument here, we are assuming league leaders Ohio State and Michigan, currently the two top-ranked teams in the nation, will both advance to the Bowl Championship Series.
We are also going under the assumption that the Big Ten affiliated bowls will do everything they can not to feature the same league team two years in a row.
In the past decade, the Capital One and Outback have each only had one Big Ten team appear in consecutive seasons — Michigan to the Cap One following 2000 and 2001, and Ohio State to the Outback following those same seasons.
We are also taking into account a couple of factors that have generally proven to be true in our years of watching the Penn State program:
1). Because PSU fans travel so well and the program generates such strong television ratings, the Nittany Lions usually receive the benefit of the doubt when bowls are choosing between two or more teams. Notre Dame is the one program that trumps PSU in this area. At last check, the Fighting Irish were not in the Big Ten.
2). So long as Joe Paterno continues to coach the Nittany Lions, bowls will trip over themselves trying to get Penn State. Though he shows no sign of slowing down as his 80th birthday nears, there is no telling when he might make a sudden retirement announcement. All of the non-BCS bowls would love to get the legend in his final game.
Please note that all times listed below are Eastern. Opponents listed are the conference tie-ins and POSSIBLE teams that will play in said bowl.
Also, we have updated this story from the original we posted. Since then, we learned that this year, the Champs Sports Bowl actually picks ahead of the Alamo Bowl in the Big Ten's pecking order. So the selection order for the non-BCS bowls is Cap One, Outback, Champs, Alamo, Insight, Motor City.
CAPITAL ONE BOWL When: Jan. 1, 1 p.m.
Where: Citrus Bowl Stadium, Orlando
Payout: $4.25 million per team
Penn State Goes If It wins out. The Lions can also sneak into the Cap One if they lose this week and then win out, and Wisconsin loses at Iowa next week. The Badgers were in the Cap One last season, so if PSU is within a game of UW in the conference standings, look for the folks from Orlando to go with a new Big Ten rep. A similar situation unfolded when the Lions received the Cap One bid over Michigan in 2002, even though the Wolverines had a better league record (6-2 to 5-3) and beat State head-to-head.
Last PSU Appearance: Auburn beat Penn State (13-9) following the 2002 season.
OUTBACK BOWL When: Jan. 1, 11 a.m.
Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa
Opponent: (LSU, Arkansas, Auburn)
Payout: $3 million per team
Penn State Goes If It loses to Wisconsin and then wins out, and the Badgers win out, as well. Even if PSU loses to Wisconsin and Michigan State, and then Iowa wins out, expect the Lions to get the nod because the Hawkeyes were in Tampa last season.
Last PSU Appearance: Penn State beat Kentucky (26-14) in the game following the 1998 season.
CHAMPS SPORTS BOWL When: Dec. 29, 8 p.m.
Where: Citrus Bowl Stadium, Orlando
Payout: $2.25 million per team
Penn State Goes If It loses its final three and Iowa wins out. That would put PSU at 4-4 in the conference and 6-6 overall (including a loss to Temple), and the Hawkeyes at 5-3 in the conference and 9-3 overall. But it is difficult to imagine the Outback bypassing a team on a three-game winning streak for one on a three-game losing streak, especially if one of those losses is to the Owls. Realistically speaking, this is the worst PSU will do.
Last PSU Appearance: Penn State lost to Stanford (24-3) in the game following the 1992 season. Known as the Blockbuster Bowl at the time, that game was played in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
ALAMO BOWL When: Dec. 30, 4:30 p.m.
Where: Alamodome, San Antonio
Payout: $2.25 million per team
Penn State Goes If It loses its final three games and Michigan or Ohio State is knocked from BCS bowl contention. We know we said we were operating under the assumption Michigan and Ohio State both make the BCS. But we figured we'd give one scenario where everything that can go wrong for PSU does go wrong. The Alamo Bowl, in our estimation, is the absolute worst-case scenario.
Last PSU Appearance: Penn State hammered Texas A&M (24-0) in the game following the 1999 season.
AROUND THE BIG TEN With those prognostications out of the way, here is our take on the other conference non-BCS bowl contenders. Teams are listed in order of their current standing in the Big Ten, followed by their record (league, overall) and their remaining schedule.
3. Wisconsin (5-1, 8-1): PSU, @ Iowa, Buffalo
NOTES: Badgers went to the Capital One Bowl last season (vs. Auburn) and, despite the fact that Barry Alvarez was coaching his final game, the bowl drew only 57,221 fans, its lowest turnout since 1989. If Penn State is within one game of UW in the league standings, expect the Lions to get the nod. There is an OUTSIDE chance the Badgers can get a BCS bid.
4. Penn State (4-2, 6-3): @ Wisconsin, Temple, MSU
NOTES: The Nittany Lions control their own destiny. If they win their final three games, wager the house on the Capital One Bowl. If they lose one of three, bet heavily on the Outback.
5. Indiana (3-2, 5-4): @ Minnesota, Michigan, @ Purdue
NOTES: Must win one of final three to earn a bowl bid for the first time since 1993 (Independence). Not even the Hoosiers can blow this? Can they? Even factoring in a near-certain loss to Michigan, depending on how many Big Ten teams are bowl eligible, IU could climb as high as the Alamo. The better bet is the Insight Bowl (Dec. 29 in Tempe, Ariz.).
6. Iowa (2-3, 6-3): Northwestern, Wisconsin, @ Minnesota
NOTES: Played in the Outback last season and the Cap One following 2004. Barring complete collapses by Wisconsin and Penn State, it is difficult to see the Hawkeyes climbing higher than the Champ Sports Bowl.
7. Purdue (2-3, 4-5): @ MSU, @ Illinois, Indiana, @ Hawaii
NOTES: 13-game regular season schedule means Boilers must win seven to get to a bowl. That seems do-able given their remaining schedule. We're guessing Alamo or Insight if the Boilers are eligible.
8. Michigan State (1-4, 4-5): Purdue, Minnesota, @ PSU
NOTES: Must win two of three to become bowl eligible. At 6-6, expect a trip to the Insight or Motor City Bowl (Dec. 26 in Detroit). The real question is, who would coach the team for the game?
START PLANNING NOW So that's the long and the short of the bowl situation from Penn State's perspective. Don't agree with something we've written here? Feel free to let us know on our message boards.
In the meantime, remember it is NEVER too early to start making your bowl travel plans. The best way to do that is to get on the waiting list for information about the official FightOnState.com bowl tours. Check out the link below to find out how you can receive an e-mail alert the second our packages become available.