Not a hot 'ticket,' but should be a good game

Posted by Jeff Rice on December 5, 2011 

There are more than a few Penn State folks out there who were less than pleased (more like irritated) with the Nittany Lions' bowl destination.

In Dallas, against Houston, in a bowl that has a proud tradition of ... one game.

Those irritated included the players themselves, who were upset that they had been "passed over" for teams like Iowa, Ohio State and Northwestern.

OK, so to the Nittany Lions, falling to the TicketCity Bowl is a perceived slight. But they should realize that it's mostly in their heads.

Did the Gator, Insight and Meineke Car Care Bowls shy away from Penn State due to the Jerry Sandusky controversy? Probably. Is that fair to the current team, which is connected to Sandusky only by the fact that the players shared the same weight room with the guy this summer? No.

But this isn't the case of an undefeated team getting left out of the title game in favor of a one-loss group. This isn't a team that won a major conference having to play on Dec. 21 in a bowl sponsored by a dot com.

This is the current bowl system in all its convoluted glory, and the Nittany Lions and their fans, who for so long enjoyed bowls that might have been a little better than they deserved because of their fan base and their famous coach, are finally getting to see how the other half (of bowl-eligible teams) lives.

Did this Penn State team have a better record than the three teams mentioned above? Yes. Did it play at a higher level than those teams for most of the season and beat each in head-to-head matchups? Yes and yes. Did it come within a game of playing in the first Big Ten championship game? Yes.

But did the Nittany Lions defeat a ranked team this season? No. Did they stay within five touchdowns of Wisconsin with that berth in the conference title game on the line? No. Did they do much to distinguish themselves from a group of solid but unspectacular group of Big Ten teams this season? No.

Penn State is a good, not great team that gets what should be a good matchup against a 12-1 Houston team and a passing attack that should be as challenging (and entertaining) as anything this team has faced in several years. Will it bother some people that they'll meet in a bowl that few college football fans have even heard of, or that they'll play on ESPNU? Of course it will. The Sandusky scandal cost this team some bowl positioning.

The point is, once you get past a certain point (the BCS level), bowl positioning isn't that big of a deal. It becomes less about bowl prestige and more about the matchup. The Nittany Lions got a good one, all things considered. They have a chance to beat a ranked opponent, a chance to send the seniors (and, in all likelihood, the coaching staff) out as winners and a chance to show the rest of the college football world, and the various bowl committees that said no thanks to them, what they're made of.

Whether they feel slighted or not, they should take advantage of those chances.

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