UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Despite its obvious warts, Penn State could end up in a big-money Bowl Championship Series game if it wins its final two regular-season games.
BCS expert Jerry Palm said yesterday that he is "90 percent certain" the Nittany Lions will land a spot in the Orange Bowl if they beat Indiana Saturday and Michigan State the following weekend and finish among the top 14 teams in the BCS standings.
"If all of that happens, I can't see the Orange Bowl passing on Penn State," he said.
According to Palm, it doesn't matter that Penn State (8-2, 4-2 Big Ten) hasn't beaten a ranked team this season.
Or that the Lions have been blown out in their two biggest home games by Iowa (21-10) and Ohio State (24-7).
Or that they have played a soft non-conference schedule.
"Bowl games are not about, 'Do you deserve this or who is where in the rankings?' " Palm said. "They are about, 'Can you bring fans? Can you put eyes on the TV sets?'
"Penn State can answer 'yes' to both of those questions, is a very attractive team, and that's all that really matters. The bowl games don't answer to anyone but themselves. They just have to keep their sponsors happy."
The Lions are ranked No. 18 in the BCS. They must win out and get some help from other teams to reach the top 14, which would make them eligible for an at-large berth to a BCS game.
Palm said Penn State, which also could be a candidate for the Fiesta Bowl, almost certainly would be picked over an undefeated Boise State team or one-loss teams from Cincinnati or Texas Christian.
"People can't quit talking about Boise State, but when it comes to ratings and watching them play, no one is there," he said. "And Cincinnati played in the Orange Bowl last year and it was the worst BCS-rated game ever."
Coach Joe Paterno yesterday was asked how hard it would be for his team to rebound from the loss to Ohio State.
"You know, 8-2 isn't a disaster," he said. "That's where we are, all right? Now, you know, obviously when you lose to a couple good football teams at home, you don't score a point in the second half against either one of them, you got some concerns. I got some concerns about that.
"... But I'm not going to get into anything about what expectations people have, that so-and-so thought we were going to do this or that."
Penn State, ranked No. 19 in the latest Associated Press poll, had high expectations when the season began: winning its first national championship in 23 years, finishing undefeated for the first time in 15 years, and winning back-to-back Big Ten titles for the first time since entering the conference in 1993.
All three of those goals are gone, but Paterno said yesterday, "I think maybe if we end up 10-2, that's a pretty darn good year."
Penn State, which lost to Southern California, 38-24, in the Rose Bowl in January, previously played in the Orange Bowl Jan. 3, 2006, beating Florida State, 26-23, in triple overtime.
"If not a BCS game, there's still another good chance we get to play in a Jan. 1 bowl," said middle linebacker Josh Hull.
NOTES -- Left guard Johnnie Troutman (strained calf) "probably won't play" against Indiana, Paterno said, meaning Matt Stankiewitch likely will start. ... Asked if he would try to get backup quarterback Kevin Newsome some snaps with the first-team offense in the final two games, Paterno said: "I don't know where you're coming from on that. ... I think we've got to concentrate on Indiana." ... Despite poor play by the special teams, Paterno does not plan to change his philosophy or shuffle his assistant coaches' duties. "We haven't been bad on special teams through the years," he said. "Let's don't get carried away. I'm not about to change. I think we're doing fine. I think the coaches are doing fine. If there's anything that I would question, it's whether we may not have the best people in there." ... Center Stefen Wisniewski from Central Catholic High School is featured in this month's issue of Sports Illustrated Kids.
Correction/Clarification: (Published Nov. 12, 2009) This story as originally published Nov. 11, 2009 misspelled the name of Penn State linebacker Josh Hull.
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