This afternoon at noon on a channel that some of you may have, our 22nd ranked Penn State Nittany Lions will line up against the 19th ranked Cougars of Houston in a game quite different than either team expected one month ago.
A few weeks ago Houston was a win away from a probable BCS Bowl bid. After scoring at least 35 points per game behind the golden arm of QB Case Keenum, Houston entered their Conference USA championship game with a 12-0 record and a top 10 ranking. Unfortunately for the Cougars, they’re offense never clicked that day and they would come away with their first loss; a 49-28 defeat from Southern Mississippi.
The voters killed them in the polls, dropping them at least a dozen spots and far from BCS contention. While an 11-1 team will play for the BCS National Championship, Houston’s 12-1 paled in comparison when it came to the schedules. Houston failed to beat a team that ended the season with more than 8 wins, and even those teams had questionable schedules.
Regardless, the power of Houston’s offense can not be denied. They led the nation in scoring, averaging an impressive 50.8 points per game. Penn State played in just ONE game where both teams COMBINED to score that many points.
The Nittany Lions play a different brand of football. Partially because they don’t have the offensive firepower to score like that. OK. QB. They don’t have the QB to score like that. They also have a formula that seemed to work more often than not. Run the ball. Protect the ball. Don’t make mistakes. Count on the defense. That theory seemed to lead to a 13-10, nail-biting victory every week, but PSU fans became accustomed to the gritty, hard-nosed fundamental team.
Following the 20-14 win in Columbus, fans were cautiously optimistic about the bowl future. Heading into the season finale against Wisconsin, Penn State was 9-2 playing for a spot in the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game. As you know, the winner of that game gets an automatic invitation to the Rose Bowl. They would not win that game, though. They wouldn’t even come close. Still, at 9-3, Penn State was tied with the 4th best record in the B1G. You could figure that 2 teams would receive BCS bids, leaving Penn State with a prominent bowl, as far as the Big Ten’s bowl commitments go.
Unfortunately, the bowls wouldn’t see it that way. There had been speculation about sponsors wanting to distance themselves from the Nittany Lions name, following the scandal. Some “analysts” referred to Penn State as “poison.” I never bought it. Last year, the PSU-Florida game was the highest rated non-BCS bowl on television. Corporations would be insane to shy away from that. Apparently they disagreed. When the selection day came, the Gator Bowl, Insight Bowl and the Meineke Car Care Bowl all passed on the Nittany Lions. To throw salt in the wound, those 3 bowls selected teams with records of 7-5 and 6-6 who had ALL lost to Penn State. It was a clear snub, and the players were not happy. There were early discussions about not accepting the bid, but cooler heads prevailed and the team is currently in Dallas practicing for the TicketCity Bowl.
Let me take a minute to thank TicketCity and recommend that you shop TicetCity.com in the future for your ticket purchases. They did not hesitate to grab Penn State when it appears that no one else wanted. That should not go unnoticed.
For the record, I prefer this matchup against Houston over the opponents that the other three bowls offered. As I said, Houston was nearly BCS bound and instead, slipped into our hands. Still, I certainly understand that the team and fans felt disrespected. No way a 9-3 Penn State team should be playing on ESPNU while 6-6 OSU plays on the mothership. Having said that, I expect a fantastic game from an explosive opponent.
Penn State will send out Rob Bolden at QB. Rob is, in a word, the “opposite” of Case Keenum. Rob started a handful of games this year and played in some others when the QB rotation was still going on, but threw just one TD. Coming out of the spring, I was driving the RoBo bandwagon, but he never seemed to take that next step. He has shown moments of brilliance. A flash against Temple. An emotional drive against Bama. A tremendous start against Minnesota. He seems to have all the tools but it was clear that something was wrong this year. By the end of October, he was struggling to throw an accurate pass or lead the team to a 1st down. It will be interesting to see how he does with McGloin out and not breathing down his neck. Sometimes that kind of competition can bring out the best in players. In Rob’s case, that did not seem to be the case.
This game will certainly be a case of two different identities. The explosive Cougars led by stud QB Case Keenum against the stingy Penn State defense anchored by All-American DT Devon Still. I think Penn State can score against the Houston defense, but will it be enough?
My official prediction is available on our Facebook page:
Or you can get it before kickoff by following me on Twitter @PSUTimm