John McGonigal is a junior majoring in print journalism and is a Collegian football reporter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (814) 865-1828. Follow him on Twitter at @jmcgonigal9.
Two years running, Penn State football has finished its seasons on enthralling high notes.
In 2012, it was the overtime thriller at home against Wisconsin. This go around, the 2013 campaign came to a close with a stunning win over the Badgers, entering Madison, Wis. as 24-point underdogs and leaving with a 31-24 victory.
Penn State coach Bill O’Brien and his players have said for the past two seasons that the Lions play “12 one-game seasons,” and treat every game like it was a bowl game.
Those two season finales sure felt like exciting bowl atmospheres.
“That’s your bowl right there,” O’Brien said after the season-ending upset in Wisconsin. “That’s what it is.”
But would, say, the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl provide the same kind of send-off to the season? In other words, what does a middle-of-the-pack bowl against a middle-of-the-pack opponent really mean?
From a player’s perspective (and perhaps even more so from a coach’s point of view), the bowls mean a great deal, but not because playing a fellow 8-4 or 7-5 team would get the campus buzzing.
Sure, fans will show up to support the team, especially Penn State fans. The Nittany Lion faithful travel extremely well to road games and bowl games, in particular. Plus, the world’s largest alumni base would factor into attendance to a mid-major bowl.
But that’s not the primary reason Penn State should be missing bowl season, after the NCAA levied a four-year bowl ban in July 2012 as part of the sanctions.
O’Brien and his staff could be hurting for a bowl because the bowl season provides opportunities for further player development and exposure to recruits.
The NCAA grants teams additional practice hours prior to playing in their respective bowl games. Most teams utilize about 15 practices with the allotted time. Because of when certain games land on the bowl season calendar, some teams don’t use up all 15, but still make use of the time given.
Basically, coaches have an extra few weeks to work with players, especially underclassmen, to have fun and progress.
Instead of practicing and getting younger players like Geno Lewis, Brandon Bell and Adam Breneman more reps, the Lions are now in their winter workouts. That’s not the same as strapping on a helmet and pads and practicing.
In terms of recruiting, Penn State is on television every time they play, most of the time garnering regional to national coverage. That said, watching the Lions play isn’t difficult, but seeing them play in a bowl game could be important to certain recruits.
That restriction could change in the future.
Sen. George Mitchell’s fifth quarterly progress report submitted to the NCAA indicated the possibility of “future mitigation” of the current postseason ban. If that were the case, Penn State could play in a bowl game as soon as next year.
And even if they ended up playing in the [insert random company name here] Bowl, having that luxury would help young players develop and even younger prospects get an extra look at Penn State — both of which would be major positives for the program moving forward.