The regular season has come to an end and I get the feeling that many Penn State faithful are relieved that the Nittany Lions made it out alive. A 9-3 record and a tie among the top of the Big Ten Leaders division isn't a bad year for a squad that had to endure a horrific scandal towards the toughest part of their schedule.
It's absolutely certain that the trouble in Happy Valley is just the beginning. It's also certain that football won't be there to distract the students and personnel from the onslaught of lawsuits and public humiliation that is about to storm over Penn State University in the upcoming months.
All that is left now for Penn State football is the bowl game, where nobody really knows where the Lions will end up. It's doubtful they will get an Outback or Capitol One Bowl bid - which are the best Big Ten bowl bids besides the BCS bid - due to the Sandusky scandal, although bowl committees know that Penn State is one of the most faithful traveling teams in the country. Who wouldn't want 50,000 Penn Staters filling up hotel rooms and restaurants for a week? It's just good business to invite a university like Penn State to a bowl game solely based on the school's following.
Usually a 9-3 record would all but lock up a Capitol One or Outback Bowl invite, but I feel as if Nebraska, Michigan, or the loser (Michigan State or Wisconsin) of the Big Ten Championship game will fill those voids. All those teams travel well enough where those bowls wouldn't take that much of a hit by not inviting Penn State. As of right now ESPN.com has Penn State going to the Insight Bowl against either Baylor or Texas. The venue for the game is Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona, which is actually a great place for fans. The weather is usually always nice and Tempe is a great city for a bowl-game type atmosphere.
Wherever and whoever Penn State ends up playing one thing is for sure. If they play like they did last week against Wisconsin it will be over quickly. Turnovers (PSU committed four) were the name of the game against the Badgers and it looked like the Nittany Lions defensive scheme had nothing for the Wisconsin offense. The Penn State defense uncharacteristically gave up 256 yards on the ground to the Badgers and gave up a total of 450 yards of offense.
Unfortunately, this has been the pattern for Penn State whenever they have gone against a highly-touted opponent over the past few years. The Nittany Lions can't seem to get over the hump when they play against opponents with high-powered offenses. In 2008 USC controlled the PSU "D" in the Rose Bowl scoring 38 points. The last two years Alabama did what they had to do win and shut down the Nittany Lions offense. Finally, last year Penn State let up 37 points to a mediocre Florida squad, with Matt McGloin throwing five interceptions. Penn State's last big win against a truly good opponent was in 2009 against LSU. Even that year the LSU offense was suspect and bad field conditions definitely favored the Nittany Lions.
It's no mystery that Penn State hasn't been able to beat top five caliber opponents the last ten years or so, but who the next head coach will be is looking to be very mysterious. Candidates such as Urban Meyer, Al Golden (Miami), Greg Schiano (Rutgers), and Pat Fitzgerald (Northwestern) all look to be out of the mix. Meyer was just hired by rival Ohio State, Golden resigned with Miami for four more years, and Schiano and Fitzgerald have pretty much said no thank you.
That leaves Penn State with a few options and ESPN reported on Tuesday that Mississippi State Head Coach Dan Mullen was the lead candidate for the job. Mullen had a good year in 2010 going 9-4, but has had a bit of setback this season only going 6-6 with their best win coming against Kentucky (who isn't good by the way). Mullen would be a solid hire for Penn State being that he's young and has experience coaching in the tough SEC. It also doesn't hurt that he was the offensive coordinator under Urban Meyer when they won their two National Championships. With Meyer now at Ohio State and the Buckeyes being in the Leaders Division with the Nittany Lions it bodes well to have a coach who knows how Meyer operates.
A couple more candidates that have been mentioned are Harvard's Tim Murphy (please no), Boise State's Chris Petersen, TCU's Gary Patterson, and Green Bay Packer's assistant coach Darren Perry. I think it would take a miracle for Penn State to land Petersen and I don't think Patterson is going anywhere either, especially with TCU moving to the BIG 12.
The Pittsburgh Post Gazette reported that Perry's agent made it known that if Penn State was interested then Perry would definitely think about it. Perry is the defensive backs coach for the Packers and has earned two Super Bowl rings as a coach for the Packers (2010) and Steelers (2005).
Perry was an All-American at the safety position for the Nittany Lions from '88 to '92 and was a starter for the Steelers in the Super Bowl in 1995. I think Perry is a sleeper pick for the position and obviously has gained some valuable experience as a coach on two winning Super Bowl teams. However, I'm with the majority on this one. I like Mullen a ton and if he can bring that SEC mentality to the Nittany Lions I believe he can help soften the blow from all the recruiting and financial trouble the program will run into over the next few months or even years.