The Ticket City Bowl hits center stage Monday Jan.2 (12 p.m. ET) at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas setting up a juicy C-USA vs. Big Ten bowl game duel between two ranked teams. #19 Houston (12-1, 8-0 C-USA) and #22 Penn State (9-3, 6-2 Big Ten) go at it an under the radar game.
It was an unpredictable and crazy season to say the least for the Nittany Lions, who were scarred with a scandal that rocked the planet when former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky's child abuse allegations hit the press. The entire situation cost former All-Time winningest Head Coach Joe Paterno his job and cast a dark cloud on the program.
It wasn't as bad for Houston, but despite a 12-0 start, the Cougars were rolled over at home in the C-USA Title Game vs. then #24 Southern Miss, 49-28, in a game they never led. The loss was the Cougars only one all season and it cost the C-USA a BCS payday and the Cougars their first trip to a BCS bowl game, likely the Allstate Sugar Bowl that now has a solid #13 Michigan vs. #11 Virginia Tech matchup.
The Cougars also have a coaching change heading into the game as previously-interim Head Coach Tony Levine can remove the interim title from the job. Levine will now be Houston's new Head Coach full-time, taking over for departed former Head Coach Kevin Sumlin, who's headed up north to College Station to lead the Texas A&M Aggies in their first season in the SEC.
In the midst of all that, we have a game to play. Penn State features the nation's No.5 ranked defense (15.7 points allowed) against Case Keenum and the Cougars' No.1 ranked offense (599 yards per game). The Cougars have been fun to watch all season long, scoring 73 points in a game twice and scoring at least 35 points in each of their first 12 games.
Penn State has cooled off drastically after a 8-1 start. The controversy hit hard and the Nittany Lions dropped two of their final three games. The matchup with Houston will be Penn State's fourth game against a ranked opponent. The shining moment in a roller coaster season for the Nittany Lions has to be the win at rival Ohio State, 20-14, on November 19.
This will be the first bowl game for interim Head Coach Tom Bradley (1-2 record since Paterno was fired) and it hasn't been easy. Bradley has had to deal with a player fight between starting QB Matt McGloin and WR Curtis Drake. The two players got into a locker room altercation two weeks ago during practice. Drake will be one of four Nittany Lions players not making the trip to Dallas for the game.
McGloin suffered a concussion in the fight and it is still up in the air if he would play in the game. Sophomore backup QB Rob Bolden (548 passing yards, 4 INT in 2011) would start in his place.
The BCS dreams for both teams did fall short, but there is a game to be played, and I feel that the Cougars should win and salvage a great season. If Bolden starts for the Nittany Lions that could be a huge deciding factor in how the Cougars much-improved defense gets after the football. Houston has been led all season long by Keenum and his go to receiver Patrick Edwards. Look for a lot of passing by Houston, but if the game ends up being a low-scoring affair, that could tilt the scales in favor of Penn State.
Penn State only scores 19.8 points per game and will struggle even more if McGloin can't go. Houston lights up the scoreboard at 50.8 points per game. Something has to give.
Penn State defends the pass at a high level only allowing nine passing touchdowns and 162.2 passing yards a game all season. The Cougars struggled to throw the ball vs. Southern Miss. as Keenum tossed two interceptions in the devastating loss.
Keenum is 1-2 in bowl games and would like to finish his career with a postseason win. I'll take Houston in a battle to win 27-20. Penn State continues to look for a head coach and with so much in limbo with NCAA sanctions, recruiting, and the controversy, Houston gets the win.