Penn State, like it or not, will take on the Houston Cougars in the 2012 TicketCity Bowl. The Nittany Lions, at 9-3, were indeed passed down the line in the Big Ten bowl chain and that certainly has ruffled some feathers within the football program and fan base. I get it. When Iowa and Northwestern get picked before Penn State with worst records and losses in head-to-head meetings with Penn State there are plenty of reasons to cry foul. The reasons for the decisions made by the bowl games are nothing more than public relations concerns that come with picking a school with a looming sex abuse scandal flying over State College.
Is it fair? No, not to the players who have put together a fine season and were one game away from playing for a Big Ten title. But while the players and fans have every right to moan about where Penn State fell in the bowl picture, the Nittany Lions are still going to be playing in a pretty interesting game on January 2 (no January 1 bowls this season), and that should not go unnoticed.
“We are pleased and honored to have two of this year’s truly outstanding college football teams,” said TicketCity Bowl President Tom Starr about the first-ever post-season matchup between the Big Ten Conference vs. Conference USA. “Our goal from the start was to bring major college post-season football back to historic Cotton Bowl Stadium, and with this extraordinary match-up coupled with last year’s exciting Texas Tech-Northwestern game; we believe we have accomplished that objective.”
“The Penn State Nittany Lion football team has accepted an invitation to play in the TicketCity Bowl on January 2 in Dallas, and we’re very thankful for the TicketCity Bowl selection committee’s recognition and support of this year’s team and our outstanding institution,” said David Joyner, Penn State acting athletic director. “I know that our fans and our team will show Penn State’s true colors and character throughout our visit to Dallas and the Metroplex. We also congratulate and look forward to competing against the University of Houston in what should be a great and memorable game for all involved.”
The TicketCity Bowl should be commended for not shying away from inviting Penn State when other corporate sponsored bowls did (we got the ball rolling on the TicketCity Bowl Facebook page). The Capital One Bowl gets a pass for taking Nebraska. Penn State not only lost to Nebraska but this is the game’s first opportunity to welcome Nebraska to their bowl game now that the Cornhuskers are a Big Ten team. The Outback Bowl also gets off the hook by selecting Michigan State, the Big Ten runner-up after losing to Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game. With Michigan going to the Sugar Bowl (while other teams may have been more deserving) the question was who would pass on Penn State?
The TaxSlayer,com Gator Bowl had been rumored to be eyeing an Ohio State-Florida match-up for a while, fueled largely by the potential Urban Meyer link. Penn State beat the Buckeyes of course, and Ohio State finished the season with a 6-6 record.
The Insight Bowl could have had a match-up of identical 9-3 Oklahoma and 9-3 Penn State, but it appears that PR concerns took a higher priority in skipping Penn State and inviting 7-5 Iowa, who of course Penn State handled during the regular season. The irony here is that Penn State is largely responsible for putting the Fiesta Bowl on the map back in the 1970’s and has a great history in bowl games out in Tempe, Arizona. The Insight Bowl is managed by the same group that operates the Fiesta Bowl. When the Fiesta Bowl moved to Glendale, the Insight Bowl filled the void in Tempe. True, Iowa fans do travel well, but there would be no mistaking the appeal, football wise, of Oklahoma and Penn State in a bowl game, scandal or no scandal.
We should remind readers that the Insight Bowl was linked to a federal investigation, in association with the Fiesta Bowl and the improper gift-giving and spending of former Fiesta Bowl CEO John Junker. From a PR standpoint, not inviting Penn State actually makes sense for the game as they are still working to re-shape their own image.
Next up was the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas, which opted to go with 6-6 Northwestern to take on Texas A&M, from the Big 12. The New Year’s Eve bowl game certainly played it safe by picking an in-state opponent in Texas A&M and a Northwestern team that plays hard in every game they play and is led by a coach like Pat Fitzgerald and a quarterback like Dan Persa. Never mind the fact that Northwestern clinched bowl eligibility in their final month of play with wins over Minnesota and Rice (uhh, and Nebraska). We are not saying that Northwestern is not deserving of playing in the game, but are they more worthy than Penn State, who defeated the Wildcats 34-24 on their home field? No, of course not.
Had the TicketCity Bowl passed on Penn State, the Nittany Lions would have fallen to the last Big Ten-affiliated bowl game on the map. The Little Caesars Pizza Bowl would have been the last bowl game with a Big Ten contract, and they decided to invite Purdue to take on the MAC’s Western Michigan. But just think, it could have gotten worse. It is hard to believe that Penn State would have fallen past the Detroit-based bowl game, but we also thought it was odd that Penn State fell to the TicketCity Bowl as well, so who knows.
Illinois was the lone Big Ten team to miss out on a Big Ten-affiliated bowl (other than BCS-bound Michigan), and they landed in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl against UCLA out in San Francisco. Would the bowl had been interested in Penn State? Who knows. They woudl have had other options to choose from, including Ball State and Western Kentucky (the two bowl-eligible teams not bowling this season). Maybe Penn State dodged a bullet? Truth is, somebody would have taken Penn State if the worst-case scenario continued to unfold over the weekend.
The thing to remember is that while the decision-makers at the Meineke Car Care Bowl and the Insight Bowl appear to be gutless cowards for passing on a Penn State program that was 9-3 and had no players involved with any of the obscene behavior off the field (they were in junior high or elementary school at the time of course), nor were they involved in any of the decision-making by the administration that failed their entire school, the men who are most to blame for all of this remain the same as it has always been.
Jerry Sandusky. Tim Curley. Graham Spanier. Gary Schultz.
Joe Paterno. Mike McQueary.
Take your pick and make any combination you wish. Those are the men who wronged these players more than anyone else.
We will get in to all of the TicketCity Bowl coverage we can over the course of the next month.
Full college football bowl season schedule via Crystal Ball Run.
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