Here are Frank Bodani’s picks for Penn State’s greatest players during his 24 years covering the team.
Frank Bodani, firstname.lastname@example.org
Updated Sunday, Dec. 2: Penn State seems headed to Florida to earn a landmark 10th victory.
The Nittany Lions’ bowl game picture cleared substantially after the four College Football Playoff teams were announced today. The bids, in order, went to Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame and Oklahoma.
For the Big Ten, that means that league champ Ohio State will play in the Rose Bowl and 10-2 Michigan will fill one of the New Year’s Six bowl slots, either the Fiesta or Peach.
And that likely pushes Penn State to the next available Big Ten spot, the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida. The New Year’s Six games will be announced later this afternoon with Penn State’s official bid being revealed by 6 p.m.
The 9-3 Lions sat on a New Year’s Six bowl bubble for a couple of weeks at the No. 12 spot in the playoff rankings. The scene didn’t truly begin to clear until Saturday when all of the favorites delivered in league championship games — Oklahoma, Alabama, Ohio State and Clemson.
That made Penn State’s only hope of earning a third consecutive New Year’s Six bid was for the playoff committee to reward Georgia for its inspired work vs. Alabama with a playoff bid over Oklahoma.
That did not happen. That forces the Bulldogs into the SEC-mandated Sugar Bowl against Texas and closes the last at-large New Year’s Six spot.
Now, the Lions figure to play in the Citrus Bowl with a long shot of dropping to the Outback Bowl in Tampa. That would happen only if Big Ten title game loser Northwestern gets the Citrus bid with five losses.
No matter, Penn State will play an SEC opponent in either game, with the most likely pick being Kentucky. Another possible opponent is Mississippi State, led by former Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead.
The biggest postseason drama is this: Will the Lions finish with a third consecutive 10-win season for the first time in 36 years?
They figure to stay on the East Coast for the holidays, a welcome change after impressive but expensive back-to-back bowl trips to California and Arizona.
Penn State has never played a bowl game in Atlanta.
These were Penn State’s bowl paths leading to Saturday’s league title games and Sunday’s selection committee process:
Penn State to the Peach Bowl?
SportsPulse: Dan Wolken and Paul Myerberg breakdown the College Football Playoff ranking ahead of conference championship weekend and if the committee got it right putting Oklahoma over Ohio State.
Date: noon Dec. 29
Destination: Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Atlanta, Georgia.)
Opponent: At-large, Top 12 team such as Florida, LSU or Central Florida
Start by rooting for the favorites in this weekend’s title games. Ohio State and Clemson must seal their deals, as expected, against big underdogs Northwestern and Pitt.
The swing team is Oklahoma.
The No. 5 Sooners must first avenge their only loss to Texas, and yet not qualify for the College Football Playoff final four.
To make that happen, Ohio State would have to jump Oklahoma in the final rankings or Georgia would have to upset No. 1 Alabama.
An Oklahoma defeat, or a victory and playoff invite, probably crowds the New Year’s Six pool too much for Penn State.
If Penn State does slip into the Peach Bowl, it most likely would be matched with LSU or Florida.
Penn State to the Citrus Bowl?
Date: 1 p.m. Jan. 1
Destination: Camping World Stadium (Orlando, Florida)
Opponent: SEC team such as LSU, Kentucky or Mississippi State
Just one key upset delivers.
Root for Clemson or Ohio State or Oklahoma to go down.
But also for Alabama to stay unbeaten by beating Georgia.
Even if all of the favorites hold serve, as long as Oklahoma stays ahead of the Buckeyes in the rankings, Penn State will probably head to Orlando.
Penn State to the Outback Bowl?
Date: noon Jan. 1
Destination: Raymond James Stadium (Tampa, Florida)
Opponent: SEC team such as Kentucky, Mississippi State or Texas A&M
This least-likely scenario becomes possible if chaos ensues.
For example, if Northwestern surprises Ohio State Saturday night, the Big Ten bowl pecking order should drop a notch.
In that scenario, Northwestern would go to the Rose Bowl and Ohio State and Michigan would be left fighting for possibly just one other New Year’s Six bid.
The Buckeyes could fall to the Citrus Bowl — pushing Penn State to the Outback.
Then again, does it matter much which Florida game it would be? They are more the same than different because of timing, opponent and location.
Penn State’s last trip to the Outback Bowl followed the 2010 season; the last Citrus Bowl trip came after the 2009 season.