|A fan base that probably won't be excited to travel is one reason bowls will shy from Penn State. (Getty Images)|
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Penn State is toxic.
Those aren't my words, but someone involved in the college bowl selection process. And that's how he described how attractive -- or, in this case, unattractive -- the Nittany Lions are as a bowl team.
The Big Ten has eight bowl bids and could end up with 10 bowl-eligible teams. If the Nittany Lions (8-2) don't reach the Big Ten title game, it's a very real possibility they could get bypassed by all of the Big Ten bowls and be shipped to a non-Big Ten bowl that doesn't have enough teams to fill its conference obligation.
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"And do you think that bowl will be thrilled?" a college football industry source said. "It's like finding out your daughter is dating Tiger Woods. What do you say: uh, congratulations?"
If the Nittany Lions win the Leaders Division -- they'll likely need a win at Wisconsin on Nov. 26 to do so -- they cannot drop any lower than the Gator Bowl, which has the Big Ten's fifth selection, according to the league's bylaws. However, if Penn State doesn't win the its division, it is treated like any other Big Ten bowl-eligible team and must wait to be selected by one of the league's bowls.
That could be a long wait.
"I can't see someone eager to take them," a bowl official said. "I don't think you want that story on your hands. When you bring a bowl team to your community, you want warm, fuzzy stories about student athletes. You don't want what's going on there."
That would be the sexual abuse allegations involving former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. Although it doesn't involve any of the current players, it's still the story for Penn State.
Don't think so? Monday morning, the Big Ten announced it was removing former coach Joe Paterno's name from the conference's football championship trophy because of the Sandusky allegations.
Penn State's firing of Paterno last week is only one reason Penn State -- which has played in January bowls in six of its last seven bowl trips -- would not be attractive for bowls. In addition, the Nittany Lions have an interim coach and could enter the postseason on a three-game losing streak; also, more importantly, the fan base probably won't be excited to travel with the team.
But the biggest reason is the "S-word" -- Sandusky.
"Bowls don't like uncertainties and Penn State has a lot of uncertainties about them," a BCS bowl official said. "Bowls like to be conservative. Do you want Good Morning America camped outside the bowl headquarters every morning, and then what if more revelations about the case come out?"
The Big Ten's bowl pecking order is: the Rose, Capital One, Outback, Insight, Gator, Meineke Car Care, Ticket City and Little Caesars. If there are more than eight bowl-eligible teams, Penn State could get bypassed by all the Big Ten bowls and then would be eligible to play in another, non-Big Ten bowl.
Penn State president Rodney Erickson said Saturday the Nittany Lions "should be allowed" to play in a bowl game.
"The shame of it is the kids at Penn State now had nothing to do with all the controversy," a bowl official said. "But there's a bigger picture here. Bowls are part for the economic impact and part being an opportunity to showcase the community. With Penn State, the other team won't be a story. Everything will be what happened at Penn State [concerning Sandusky]. It's not what you're looking for as a bowl. It's not a fun story.
"No matter what, the story with Penn State will be the residue of that situation. As a bowl game, you don't want to bring that on yourself."
One bowl official believes Penn State will get "shopped" to a non-Big Ten bowl, possibly a Conference USA bowl since C-USA is projected to not be able to fill all its bowl slots.
"Maybe they could end up in [Conference USA's] Hawaii Bowl?" a bowl official said. "That's about as far away as you can get."
BCS Bowl Projections
BCS Title: LSU vs. Oklahoma State. The Cowboys are two wins away from their first BCS bowl and first BCS national title game. However, if Oklahoma State loses to Oklahoma on Dec. 3, the Cowboys could plummet from being in a BCS bowl to playing in the Cotton Bowl. LSU's road to New Orleans remains simple: defeat Mississippi and Arkansas the next two weeks and win the SEC championship game on Dec. 3.
Rose: Oregon vs. Wisconsin. Oregon is lobbying for a rematch with LSU in the BCS national title game, but the Ducks will need help. I don't think they're going to get it, so they'll head to Pasadena as the Pac-12 champs against Wisconsin. The Badgers look like they'll get a rematch with Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game. A win there and the Badgers are back in Pasadena for a second consecutive season.
Fiesta: Oklahoma vs. Stanford. If Oklahoma State wins out, the Fiesta would replace the Cowboys with two-loss Oklahoma? Stanford, at 11-1, would be an attractive at-large team, but don't count out Nebraska just yet. The Cornhuskers must win out against Michigan and Iowa to have a shot.
Sugar: Alabama vs. Houston. Alabama will replace LSU as the SEC's representative for the Sugar Bowl. The Sugar then will have a choice: pick 13-0 Houston or the Big East champion. That's not really a hard choice is it? The Cougars, as long as they remain undefeated and win the C-USA title, would get to test their offense against the nation's top defense.
Orange: Clemson vs. Cincinnati. Clemson clinched a berth in the ACC title game and I think they'll win the ACC and get the ACC's berth in the Orange Bowl. Trying to decipher the Big East -- surprise! -- is a little bit trickier. Cincinnati, which suffered its first Big East loss Saturday, has a one-game lead over four teams but lost QB Zach Collaros for the rest of the season. I'll still stick with Bearcats -- at least for another week -- as my pick to win the Big East.