Capital One Bowl consolation prize for Penn State this year
Penn State last took to the gridiron way back on Nov. 21 when the Nittany Lions closed out their Big Ten schedule with a 42-14 win at Michigan State.
The long layoff blunts any momentum generated by that victory for PSU.
A lot had transpired in college football while the Lions and the rest of the Big Ten were in their annual hibernation.
The bowl bids were handed out, and despite some campaigning by the Lions to land a lucrative Bowl Championship Series (BCS) slot, the two Big Ten BCS slots were awarded to Ohio State and Iowa.
That is an appropriate pecking order. Despite their massive drawing power that makes them attractive to most bowl officials, the Lions did lose to both the Buckeyes and Hawkeyes. While the bowl selection process has its drawbacks, PSU had its chances to land in the BCS had it won at least one of those games.
Penn State ended up ranked 13th in the final BCS standings and is ranked 9th by the USA Today Coaches Poll, as well as 11th in The Associated Press writers' poll.
As it is, the Lions (10-2) received a worthy consolation prize in Friday's Capital One Bowl in Orlando, where they will face Louisiana State (9-3) in a 1 p.m. kickoff.
This pairing might actually be worthy of a BCS bowl most seasons, as it pits two of the nation's traditional intersectional powers, one from the Big Ten, and the other, LSU, a representative from the big, bad Southeastern Conference.
This is the fourth New Year's Day bowl in the past five years for the Lions, who played in the 2006 FedEx Bowl, the 2007 Outback Bowl and 2009 Rose Bowl.
It is also a staggering 36th bowl appearance for Penn State under Joe Paterno, who is the all-time leader in bowl victories with 23. The Lions' 26 total bowl wins is third nationally among schools with at least 10 postseason victories. PSU is 26-13-2 all-time in bowls, a 65.8 winning percentage.
One of those victories came at the expense of LSU in the 1974 Orange Bowl; the 16-9 win capped the Lions' first 12-0 season in the same year John Cappelletti won the Heisman Trophy award. It also marked the only time the schools have met before this Capital One Bowl.
During the usual pre-bowl hype, discussion has once again turned to whether or not the Big Ten, which has 11 teams, should expand in order to realign itself, probably into divisions, so it can have a championship game like the SEC and other conferences do. Paterno has been an advocate of adding a school to the Big Ten for such a purpose and has continued to mention it during interviews, although Paterno would prefer to add an Eastern school. Missouri was one team that has been suggested, at least in passing.
Another hot topic for the Lions, besides who is riding the Incredible Hulk Coaster at Universal Studio's Islands of Adventure this week, is whether or not two of their star juniors will leave for the NFL Draft.
Both running back Evan Royster, who is closing in on another 1,200 yard rushing season, and linebacker standout Navorro Bowman have said they will make their decisions following the bowl game.
The layoff has been about the same for LSU, which last played on Nov. 28, one week after PSU wrapped things up.
The Tigers, coached by fifth-year mentor Les Miles, who is 51-14 during the span, sustained all of their losses to bowl teams this season, losing 13-3 to Florida and 24-15 at Alabama, the two teams which met for the SEC title. The other setback was a 25-23 setback at the hands of Ole Miss.
This is the fifth Capital One Bowl appearance for the Lions, who have had tough luck in Orlando with a 1-3 mark. Their lone victory was a 31-13 triumph over Tennessee in 1994. PSU has lost to Clemson (1988), Florida (1998) and to Auburn (13-9) in 2003, their last Capital One game. The Lions are 8-5 all-time in bowl games against the SEC.
LSU is 4-0 in bowl games under Miles, and that includes winning the 2007 BCS national championship, which the Tigers also did in 2003. This is the seventh New Year's Day bowl game in the past nine years for the Bayou Bengals, who are 21-18-1 all-time in the postseason.
The Tigers' offense is under the direction of sophomore Jordan Jefferson and features a line that includes First Team All-SEC tackle Ciron Black. Jefferson has passed for 1,964 yards this season, completing 62.1 percent of his passes and connecting on 16 TDs.
Jefferson's top receivers include Brandon LeFell (52-705, 10 TDs) and Terrence Tolliver (47-654, 3 TDs).
The Tigers' backfield has been hard hit by injuries, however. Charles Scott broke his collarbone in November, Keiland Williams suffered a season-ending ankle injury. Russell Shepard and Stevan Ridley are the top healthy runners for LSU.
Much like the Lions, LSU has one of the nation's top defenses. The secondary has strong performers including sophomore cornerback Patrick Peterson and safety Chad Jones. The linebacking corps contains the tackle leaders with junior Kelvin Sheppard (103), followed by seniors Perry Riley (92) and Harry Coleman (77).
The defensive front includes tackle Drake Nevis (four sacks) and end Rahim Alem (4.5 sacks).
Penn State has had some troubles in kick coverage this season, and that could be an area of concern against the Tigers. Trindon Holliday is the nation's number two ranked punt returner, averaging 17.7 yards per punt and 23.7 yards on kickoff returns.
The oddsmakers have installed PSU as a 2 1/2 point favorite, but with two strong defenses, a low scoring affair wouldn't be a surprise to anyone.