Your Penn State Nittany Lions are 10-2, and ranked inside the top 10. Let’s take a look at some of their potential postseason opponents, pending which bowl game they are selected for.
Rose Bowl - Washington Huskies (10-2)
This is assuming a whole host of things, including the fact that Penn State almost assuredly will not be selected for the Rose Bowl. But in this scenario, the Rose - who traditionally takes the highest ranked non-playoff B1G team - decides that they’d rather not see Ohio State for the third time since 2018, and instead selects Penn State (OSU ends up in the Orange Bowl, which they haven’t been to since 2013).
This also assumes that USC wins the Pac-12 and heads to the playoff at 12-1, which doesn’t seem too far fetched.
Washington turned it on in the second half of the season, including wins over Oregon, Oregon State, and Washington State. They did not have to play Utah or USC this season, and did lose their game against UCLA, but would make a fun matchup regardless, and would be a rematch of the 2017 Fiesta Bowl, which Penn State won 35-28.
Orange Bowl - Clemson Tigers (11-2) or North Carolina Tar Heels (10-3)
This assumes that Penn State is selected over Tennessee by the Orange Bowl, which could again be a bit of a reach. But consider that the Orange Bowl has to select a Big Ten team either this year or next year due to their 12-year agreement, and perhaps a 10-2 Nittany Lions squad leapfrogs Tennessee.
Clemson is facing UNC in the ACC CCG, and is likely favored. Their defense is not as strong as usual, and DJU has been having issues at the QB position, but the Tigers are still stacked with talent. I think Penn State actually matches up well with Clemson, though I wouldn’t be surprised if a game against them is fairly low scoring.
UNC on the other hand is all offense no defense, so a shootout would seem inevitable against the Tar Heels.
Cotton Bowl - Tulane Green Wave (11-2) or Central Florida Knights (10-3)
In the latest AP Poll, Tulane was ranked #18, while UCF was #22. These are the two highest Group of 5 teams, and coincidentally play each other in the AAC CCG this weekend. This is a de facto play-in game for the Cotton Bowl, where the winner will play an at-large Power 5 team. This should be the default destination for the Lions, unless one of the two somewhat unlikely scenarios above take place.
Penn State did just play in the Cotton Bowl in 2019, but there’s no rule against a team returning just 3 years later. Given that Alabama is likely headed to the Sugar Bowl, and Tennessee is likely headed to the Orange Bowl, Penn State to the Cotton Bowl seems like the safest bet.
As always, the Cotton Bowl against a G5 team presents its same storylines. Win and you were supposed to, lose and ha ha you’re a bad P5 team. But any New Year’s Six game is a fantastic season, regardless of opponent.
That being said, both Tulane and UCF are dangerous teams, with UCF being set to join the Power 5 when they head to the Big 12 in 2023. Penn State would be the more talented team, but players opting out could become a factor for the Lions.
Citrus Bowl - We Riot
No seriously, if a top 10 PSU team at 10-2 is somehow passed over for all of the above, we riot.