Penn State’s likely bowl destinations feature prestigious landing spots

Penn State football is once again in the hunt for a Big Ten Conference title and berth in the College Football Playoff.

 

We preview six possible bowl destinations for the Nittany Lions depending on how the season shakes out.

 

Cotton Bowl, College Football Playoff semifinal (Dec. 29)

4 p.m. or 8 p.m. ET on ESPN
AT&T Stadium
Arlington, Texas

Last appearance (season): 1974, when Penn State outlasted Baylor 41-20.

Bowl history: 2-0-1.

Penn State (likely) plays in this bowl if: the Nittany Lions win the Big Ten championship with 0 or 1 loss in the regular season.

Possible opponents: The giants of college football over the last few years all factor in here: Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Oklahoma, and maybe even LSU or Stanford, which are also off to strong starts — less probable but possible are teams like Auburn or Washington, or even West Virginia.

Fans should root for this bowl because: Penn State would compete for its third national title in program history.

 

Orange Bowl, College Football Playoff semifinal (Dec. 29)

4 p.m. or 8 p.m. ET on ESPN
Hard Rock Stadium
Miami Gardens, Florida

Last appearance (season): 2005, a 26-23, 3-OT victory over Florida State

Bowl history: 4-1.

Penn State (likely) plays in this bowl if: the Nittany Lions win the Big Ten championship with 0 or 1 loss in the regular season.

Possible opponents: Mostly the same favorites from the Cotton Bowl

Fans should root for this bowl because: Penn State would compete for its third national title in program history.

 

Rose Bowl (Jan. 1)

5 p.m. ET, ESPN
Rose Bowl
Pasadena, California

Last appearance (season): 2016, when Penn State lost on a last-second field goal to USC, in one of the most iconic games in Rose Bowl history. The final score was USC 52, Penn State 49.

Bowl history: 1-3.

Penn State (likely) plays in this bowl if: the Nittany Lions finish the regular season 11-1, and Ohio State finishes 12-0 and qualifies for the College Football Playoff.

Possible opponents: Washington, which would give Penn State a rematch against the team it defeated in last season’s Fiesta Bowl, or Stanford. With the game pitting the Big 10 against the Pac 12, they’re the two most likely choices. Oregon is also in the mix, and even USC, though the Trojans tumbled out of the standings in the early part of the year after a blowout loss to Texas.

Fans should root for this bowl because: even with Penn State just playing in this game a few seasons, there’s a whole lot to like about the Rose Bowl. It still stands as one of the most glamorous bowls, and in some ways, the most glamorous. Plus, the Nittany Lions could avenge their last two losses in the contest while making the program’s third-straight appearance in a New Year’s Six bowl; the latter would signal that Penn State has staying power and can compete for a spot in the College Football Playoff on an annual basis, and also help mightily with recruiting.

 

Citrus Bowl (Jan. 1)

1 p.m. ET, ABC
Camping World Stadium
Orlando, Florida

Last appearance (season): 1997, a 21-6 defeat against Florida.

Bowl history: 1-2.

Penn State (likely) plays in this bowl if: the Nittany Lions have a respectable 10-2 mark in the regular season. It wasn’t long ago that 10 wins and an appearance in a Florida-based bowl was the norm for this program, so now that this would be a mid-tier destination for Penn State says a lot about the progress made and success achieved with James Franklin and the team over the last three seasons.

Possible opponents: Virginia Tech, which has seen an early resurgence through the early part of the schedule, or Miami, Fla., which would give fans the opportunity to relive the Fiesta Bowl victory that landed the program its second national title. A team from either the ACC or SEC would square up against Penn State, so add in usual favorites such as LSU and Auburn.

Fans should root for this bowl because: Penn State would be playing a marquee opponent in a bowl that still carries some weight. And the opportunity to face off against Miami again would give this bowl some real sizzle and rank it possibly the most-watched bowl game outside of the College Football Playoff. Media attention would certainly be higher than usual for this bowl, too.

 

Outback Bowl (Jan. 1)

Noon ET, ESPN2
Raymond James Stadium
Tampa, Florida

Last appearance (season): 2010, a 37-24 setback against Florida.

Bowl history: 3-1.

Penn State plays in this bowl if: the Nittany Lions stumble, if that’s the right word, to a 9-3 regular season. This destination is arguably slightly less glamorous than the Citrus Bowl — it’s newer and has a corporate feel to it, named after the steakhouse chain — though still would give Penn State an opportunity at a 10-win season.

Possible opponents: Mississippi State, which is far and away the most intriguing matchup. The game would pit Penn State against former offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead who is quickly re-energizing the Bulldogs with some early high-scoring games. Mississippi State rolled up 600-plus offensive yards in two of its first three games. Other possibilities include LSU, Auburn, South Carolina, or even Kentucky, depending on how the SEC conference race turns out. That’s the conference with the tie-in with the Big Ten.

Fans should root for this bowl because: Kind of hard to find a legit reason here — playing in this bowl would signal something of a disappointing season — though it’d still be fun to spend winter in Florida, and who wouldn’t want to see Joe Moorhead again, right?

 

Holiday Bowl (Dec. 31)

7 p.m. ET, FS1
SDCCU Stadium
San Diego, Calif.

Last appearance: 1989 season, when the Nittany Lions won a wild one against BYU, 50-39.

Bowl history: 1-0.

Penn State plays in this bowl if: things really go sideways for the Nittany Lions. This game is on the lower end of the bowl spectrum, so Penn State likely finishes 8-4 if this is where the Nittany Lions wind up.

Possible opponents: Like the Rose Bowl, this contest has the Big 10 and Pac 12 facing off, so Penn State would likely face Washington State, Utah, or Oregon.

Fans should root for this bowl because: Penn State does have a spirited history in this bowl, albeit in just one game, and fans on the west coast would have a manageable trip, just like in the past two years. Other than that, however, there isn’t much to like about this bowl destination.

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