Read on for our projections, which are based on several minutes of intense research, discussions with people who kind of know stuff and our gut feelings.
We will update as we receive more relevant information.
PSU in the Alamo Bowl: 56 percent chance
PSU in the Cap One Bowl: 26 percent chance
PSU in the Champs Sports Bowl: 17.5 percent chance
PSU somewhere else: .5 percent chance
If you are hoping for the best-paying bowl for Penn State (Cap One — Jan. 1 in Orlando), you should be pulling for Arizona, Washington, LSU, Pitt and Oklahoma this week. For PSU to have a shot at the Cap One, Illinois must elevate to the BCS, and those teams winning will help make that happen, to varying degrees.
Unfortunately, two of the key games you'll have to watch if you are hoping for the Cap One — Arizona State at Arizona and Washington at Hawaii — kick off at 8 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. Eastern Saturday, so prepare for a long night. Both are on ESPN2.
Wisconsin won't be in the Cap One this year. The Badgers have been there the last two seasons and neither side wants the other this time around. We would not be surprised if we hear a Wisconsin to the Outback Bowl announcement in the next few days.
So, IF Illinois goes BCS, the Cap One will pick between Michigan and PSU. In that scenario, if LSU loses to Tennessee in the SEC title game (hence falling out of the BCS), the Cap One will pair the Tigers and Wolverines for obvious reasons.
But with any opponent besides LSU (provided Illinois is out of the mix), Penn State would be a more attractive opponent.
If Illinois does not advance to the BCS, it will likely gain the Big Ten's spot in the Cap One (perhaps vs. Florida). That means the Outback (Jan. 1 in Tampa), unless it has already cut a deal with Wisconsin, will choose between the Badgers, Michigan and Penn State. As PSU was in Tampa last year, the Lions will be out of that mix.
The Alamo (Dec. 29 in San Antonio) chooses after the Outback. And for the folks in San Antonio, PSU figures to be a more attractive draw than the Wolverines or Badgers.
Michigan was in the Alamo following the 2005 season, so it is difficult to believe Wolverine fans would travel well to the same minor bowl game two years later, even to say goodbye to Lloyd Carr.
The last time Wisconsin was in the Alamo — vs. Colorado in 2002 — the game drew fewer than 51,000 fans, its lowest turnout since 1994 and third-lowest ever. By comparison, 65,380 fans showed up to see Penn State tangle with Texas A&M in 1999. At the time, it was the largest crowd ever to see an event in the Alamodome, including SEC championship games.
Could Penn State fall lower than the Alamo? Sure. This is how: Illinois does not make it to a BCS game and lands in the Cap One. The Outback snaps up Michigan for Carr's farewell (imagine if IT could line up a game between the Wolverines and LSU).
While it would seem to make sense for the Alamo to pick Penn State over Wisconsin, the Champs Sports Bowl (Dec. 28 in Orlando), which picks next, could attempt to broker a deal with the Alamo to keep Wisconsin out of Orlando for a third straight year.
Champs is run by the same group — Florida Citrus Sports — that runs the Cap One.
Why would the Alamo go for that? Because the Alamo and Champs alternate their picking order, so Champs could promise future considerations.