Now that Paterno's BCS fate has been jinx-proofed via a Big Ten Championship, it's time to take a look at what others have to do with Penn State's eventual situation.
So what are we to do, as Penn State fans, about this unexpected third party interest? The Civil War is set for Saturday (7:00 pm EST on everyone's favorite second rate sports network: Versus). So after I take down my fifth plate of Thanksgiving leftovers, these are the things that will be running through my head before the game.
A shot at USC would be fun. Yes, playing USC in LA has it's downside. They are essentially at home. They are incredibly comfortable playing there (they've been to the game four times in the last five years, plus the "road games" they play in the Rose Bowl against UCLA). They almost always perform up to their talent level in big games and, as you might have heard, they are incredibly talented.
Still, there is definitely something to gain. Where Ohio State failed miserably, Penn State can succeed. They can make people question the structure of the Big Ten and further drive home the differences between the Big Ten Champion and their co-champion impostor.
Rematches are less fun. Especially when the team you root for completely dominated the first version of the series.
From a public perception standpoint, Penn State has absolutely nothing to gain here. From a fan's standpoint, this takes away significantly from the thought of winning the Rose Bowl...if we win. If not, or even if it ends as a close victory for Penn State, it will be completely unsatisfying for all of the obvious reasons. Losing to a very talented team isn't a shameful experience...it comes with the territory. Losing to a team you beat just months prior is sour.
Rooting for the less-often-successful is more fun. Let's be honest: everyone is tired of USC. They have been the undisputed (as in best record plus winning all the head-to-head "tie-breakers") champion of the Pacific-10 conference for five straight years now and it would be nice to see someone break that streak. I like the under dog story and even more so when it includes a team that isn't usually in the mix.
Plus, who can forget this?
The Big Ten could use a good bowl record. Count me in as one of the people who completely underestimated the power of group think. I gave the voters a lot more credit than they deserved: I assumed they would not buy in so completely to the Big Ten hate and actually evaluate the teams at the top on their individual merit. This did not happen. One loss teams were getting first place votes over an undefeated Penn State and there was increased momentum to actually jump them over a potential 12-0 Paterno team on a consolidated basis.
Oregon State in the Rose Bowl means USC as an at-large. They would be getting the last spot available, leaving two loss, second place Ohio State "screwed" and facing an SEC school in the Capital One Bowl. This also bumps everyone else down, turning a lot of match-ups in which the Big Ten team would be dogs into matchups where the teams are closer to equals. The Big Ten already has what is probably the toughest (although best paying) tie-ins of any conference. On top of that, the Big Ten has sent more teams to the BCS over the past five years than any other conference. This has negative effects on the conference's recent bowl record. As much as I even hate the conference discussion, it was actually affecting the voting in unprecedented ways and needs to be curbed. Winning bowl games would be a good way of achieving this.
I haven't given up my hope for the improbable. I think "not quite impossible" is probably a better description, but regardless: USC failing to win the Pac-10 could potentially increase the chances of Penn State climbing back into the MNC game. It would take a long string of football related events plus some interesting public perception swings, but the list of Things That Need To Happen includes a scenario in which Penn State can get in front of USC. A loss for the Trojans seems highly unlikely; Notre Dame is dead in the water and UCLA, at 4-6, is probably a similar underdog.
The most likely method to madness: Florida would have to lose to FSU and then somehow beat Alabama in the SEC Championship Game; Oklahoma State would have to knock off Oklahoma, putting Texas Tech in the CCG; Missouri would probably then need to beat the Red Raiders. That still leaves Texas and USC ranked ahead of Penn State, but the fact that Penn State actually can call themselves a conference champion, while the other two cannot, might help make them one of the two teams left in the mix. Or it might not, but I'm sayin' there's a chance.
So what does it all mean? Well, to be straight with you, I still haven't made up my mind. Oregon State is a good story and I would like to see them earn a spot in the Rose Bowl. I'm tired of USC, but it would make the actual game a lot more fun and has tremendous up-side, something a rematch lacks. But would the chance of a possible rematch deter me from giving up MCN hope? Well even if USC did "lose" there is no telling what kind of mood the voters would be in anyway; probably one we would perceive as bad.
This is a very complicated case...a lotta ins, a lotta outs, a lotta what-have-yous.