It appeared for a time as if Penn State would play in BCS bowl games in consecutive seasons for the first time in team history.
Instead, the Nittany Lions will play in the Capital One Bowl, while the only two teams to defeat them this season will carry the Big Ten flag in the Rose and Orange bowls.
Penn State (10-2) was impressive in most of its games this season but was mistake-prone and dominated at the line of scrimmage in its two most important tests of the year, home losses to Iowa and Ohio State. Its New Year's Day date with the Tigers, who had a similar season in the SEC, provides Penn State a chance to beat a ranked opponent for the first time this season.
Several Nittany Lions -- quarterback Daryll Clark, linebacker Sean Lee, defensive tackle Jared Odrick and most likely linebacker Navorro Bowman and running back Evan Royster -- will look to conclude their Penn State careers in fine fashion. But Joe Paterno will also need contributions from youngsters like wide receiver Derek Moye and safety Drew Astorino to pick up his 24th career bowl victory.
The Nittany Lions will have a chance to restore a bit of the Big Ten's sagging national reputation by beating one of the SEC's most consistent programs. Les Miles' team, which won a national championship in 2006, has had consistency issues this season but has the athletes to give Penn State as tough a test as it has faced this year.
Paterno relished the chance to face the Tigers for the first time since the 1974 Orange Bowl, when the John Cappelletti-led Nittany Lions beat LSU 16-9.
"I have a good squad, a bunch of good kids," Paterno said Sunday. "They deserve a great bowl, and we got one."
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: When the Nittany Lions have rhythm and momentum, they're difficult to stop. QB Daryll Clark has taken advantage of some capable targets and well-designed play calls to throw for 23 touchdowns and nearly 2,800 yards this season and RB Evan Royster gives the unit balance and consistency. But Penn State has had trouble getting in rhythm until the second half of many games and has struggled to protect Clark against quality defenses.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Tom Bradley's unit has looked dominant at times and resourceful at others, but no one has been able to beat the Nittany Lions' defense consistently this season. A veteran and dynamic front seven led by DT Jared Odrick and LB Navorro Bowman and Sean Lee has kept the pressure on the backfield and the Nittany Lions' all-new secondary overcame injuries and some early communication troubles to round into a solid group.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: Penn State's defensive line vs. LSU's offensive line. The Tigers allowed 35 sacks this season; the Nittany Lions, led by Jared Odrick's six, had 35 QB sacks on defense.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "When everybody was speculating about bowl games, we talked it over with the team, and I said the best matchup for us would be if we could get LSU." -- Penn State coach Joe Paterno on playing LSU in the Capital One Bowl.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
BOWL BREAKDOWN: Penn State vs. LSU, Capital One Bowl, Jan. 1 -- Two teams who had high hopes coming into the season but couldn't get it done in their biggest conference games will square off with conference bragging rights on the line. The Nittany Lions have only faced the Tigers once -- a 16-9 win in the 1974 Orange Bowl.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
DT Jared Odrick -- The Big Ten's Defensive Player of the Year gets things started up front for Penn State's defense, occupying blockers so his teammates can make plays in the running game and providing a dangerous inside rush during passing situations.
RB Evan Royster -- The junior overcame illness and some spotty offensive line play this season to average 5.9 yards per carry. He was also an effective receiver when given the opportunity.
QB Daryll Clark -- The senior set several school passing records this season but also failed to deliver in his team's biggest games. Clark's accuracy and his decision-making are the keys to the offense but he'll need time to throw the ball.
LB Navorro Bowman -- The junior outside linebacker will likely play his last game as a Nittany Lion before entering the NFL Draft. He recovered from an early-season groin injury to record 84 tackles in 10 games and also turned in two touchdowns on an interception return and a fumble return.
--CB A.J. Wallace, who missed Penn State's regular-season finale at Michigan State with concussion symptoms, will be ready to play in the Nittany Lions' bowl game.
--WR Chaz Powell is still recovering from a sprained shoulder he suffered in the Indiana game and will miss at least a chunk of the bowl practices, though he could be ready in time for the bowl game.
--LG Johnnie Troutman did not play in Penn State's last two regular-season games while suffering from a strained calf muscle but should be at full strength for the bowl game.
Previous Report: 11/29/2009