As Penn State closed out its 66-3 rout of Maryland on Saturday, it marked the end of a bittersweet year.
The Nittany Lions contended for another season, finishing 10-2 with big wins over rivals Michigan, Pittsburgh, and Iowa. However, fans entered the season with higher hopes after winning the Big Ten Championship and making a Rose Bowl appearance in 2016-17. Many analysts and fans alike had the Lions legitimately in the College Playoff/National Championship discussion. Running back Saquon Barkley, perhaps the nation’s best overall player, was the Heisman Trophy front-runner a mere month ago. Since then, the team dropped road losses to Big Ten East rivals Ohio State and Michigan State, and saw their road to Indianapolis disappear.
This doesn’t mean Penn State will not be in a premier bowl. Nittany Lion faithful will just need to watch several conference championship games to determine their fate. While Pasadena will not be a possible destination for Penn State this bowl season, here is where the Nittany Lions could find themselves.
1. Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic
AT&T Stadium – Arlington, TX | December 29, 8:30 pm ESPN
JerryWorld might be the most likely destination for the Lions. This is one of numerous matchups between two “at-large” teams and no conference affiliation. However, it is looking increasingly likely that the Cotton Bowl will be a Big Ten – Big 12 matchup. Penn State will keep an eye on the Big 12 Championship, and could play the losing team (TCU or Oklahoma) in Dallas. Another possible opponent could be the SEC Championship loser between Auburn and Georgia.
2. Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl
Mercedes-Benz Stadium – Atlanta, GA | January 1, 12:30 pm ESPN
The Peach Bowl would have the Nittany Lions facing one of the top non-power conference schools such as undefeated Central Florida. Another at-large bowl, the likely American Athletic Conference champion Knights could be here after an impressive season.
3. Playstation Fiesta Bowl
University of Phoenix Stadium – Glendale, AZ | December 30, 4:00 pm ESPN
Although the Rose Bowl won’t be an option, a Fiesta Bowl berth could give college football fans a rematch of last season’s thriller in Pasadena. USC could be on its way to Glendale if it defeats Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship. However, if the bowl committee wants to avoid rematches, it could result in Penn State being sent to another bowl such as the Peach.
4. Capital One Orange Bowl
Hard Rock Stadium – Miami Gardens, FL | December 30, 8:00 pm ESPN
This is where Michigan wound up last year after finishing third in the Big Ten East. If the Big Ten is in fact given the Orange Bowl, Penn State could play the losing team of the Clemson-Miami ACC Championship Game. However, the losing team in the Big Ten Championship is much more likely to make the Orange Bowl over Penn State. In addition, TCU would need to upset Oklahoma in the Big 12. I wouldn’t anticipate buying plane tickets to Miami.