The way things broke down Saturday, with the Nittany Lions winning easily and Wisconsin edging Iowa in Iowa City, Penn State's most likely destination is the west coast of Florida.
The non-BCS bowls affiliated with the Big Ten are waiting for the conference to release teams for the lower-tier bowls to select. Unbeaten conference powers Ohio State (ranked No. 1 nationally) and Michigan (No. 2) both won easily Saturday, virtually assuring each a BCS slot after their huge showdown in Columbus next week.
We've got to wait for the Big Ten to go ahead and tell us we can pick, said Bruce Poli of the Outback Bowl. They'll probably be looking at the teams that played today, Michigan and Ohio State and Wisconsin. Once they go ahead and start releasing teams and we can pick, then we're free to start doing that. We don't know if that's going to happen this week or if they are going to wait until after the last game of the year next weekend.
AUDIO FILE: Hear Mark Brennan talk to Bruce Poli here.
Since no conference can have more than two teams in the BCS, it only seems natural that the Big Ten will release its other bowl-eligible teams sooner rather than later.
No. 16 Wisconsin hammered down third place in the league with its 24-21 win over Iowa, and now seems to be locked into the Capitol One Bowl, which gets the top non-BCS pick of Big Ten teams. The Badgers have completed conference play and face Buffalo at home this week.
Penn State improved to 7-4 overall by beating Temple in non-conference action. Its league record is 4-3 with only a game against Michigan State at Beaver Stadium remaining. The Lions can secure fourth place with a victory over a team that has dropped eight of nine games.
The Outback gets the second choice of non-BCS Big Ten teams, and PSU seems to be a perfect fit even if its loses to Michigan State.
Yes, Purdue (7-4, 4-3 after a win over Illinois Saturday) can still pass the Lions in the league standings with a win over Indiana this week and a PSU loss to the Spartans. But there are other factors at work that would seem to make the Lions a more attractive choice for the Outback even if their worst-case scenario unfolds.
First, Penn State travels extremely well and generates great television ratings. Second, the drama surrounding injured head coach Joe Paterno is sure to generate immense interest in whatever bowl PSU gets to.
Third, the Lions shut out Purdue on the road in head-to-head competition. And finally, the Boilermakers end their regular season at Hawaii Nov. 25, a scenario that could hurt its bowl attendance (because many fans will go to visit Hawaii, instead).
The Big Ten's non-BCS bowls have flexibility when making their selections so long as teams under consideration are within a game of each other in the standings.
Poli talked about the Lions in positive terms.
Penn State's got name recognition like all the Big Ten teams do, Poli said. It's a good program. We've had them down [in Tampa] and both times [the 1995 and 1998 seasons] were positive experiences for the bowl.
We've got a lot to offer for the bowl, he added. We have the Florida sunshine and beaches, a great bowl experience. And I think if you talk to a lot of the fans who went down in [January of] '99, they'll say they had a great time. So it's a good time for everyone.
The Outback Bowl sent scouts to only three Big Ten schools Saturday: Temple at Penn State, Purdue at Illinois and Wisconsin at Iowa. The Hawkeyes, who played in the Outback last season, fell to 2-5 in the league with their loss and have no realistic chance of landing in Tampa again.
So that leaves Penn State and Purdue. And with the Outback outwardly anxious to make its pick ASAP, the Lions are the safe bet.
Hopefully, if the Big Ten lets us, we'll be able to [pick a program] as quickly as possible and fans can go ahead and start buying their tickets and making their reservations, Poli said.
If you are interested in seeing the Nittany Lions in bowl action — with Paterno potentially returning to the sideline for the first time since his injury — visit the FightOnState.com registration page to make sure you are alerted to our bowl packages the second they become available. You can do so at this link, and there is no obligation to purchase anything.
In the meantime, here is the Big Ten bowl picture as we see it.
BIG TEN BOWL PICTURE
Team names followed by records (overall, conference) and remaining games.
Ohio State (11-0, 7-0); Michigan
Michigan (11-0, 7-0); at Ohio State
Wisconsin (10-1, 7-1); Buffalo
Penn State (7-4, 4-3); Michigan State
Purdue (7-4, 4-3); Indiana, at Hawaii
Iowa (6-5, 2-5); at Minnesota
Need One Win For A Bowl
Indiana (5-6, 3-4); at Purdue
Minnesota (5-6, 2-5); Iowa
Eliminated From Bowl Mix
Illinois (2-9, 1-6); at Northwestern
Michigan State (4-7, 1-6); at Penn State
Northwestern (3-8, 1-6); Illinois
Ohio State: BCS Bowl
Michigan: BCS Bowl
Wisconsin: Capital One Bowl
Penn State: Outback Bowl
Iowa: Champs Sports Bowl
Purdue: Alamo Bowl