Where will Penn State go bowling this year? Here are some likely destinations

Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley (Getty Images)

They’re out of the College Football Playoff. They won’t get the chance to defend their Big Ten championship.

But Penn State will still likely land a desirable bowl destination when the matchups are announced on Sunday.

The Nittany Lions are 10-2. While they are definitely not heading to the Rose Bowl or the Sugar Bowl, which will be the sites of the College Football Playoff’s two semifinal games, they can almost certainly count on getting a bid to one of the “New Year’s Six” bowl games, according to most projections.

The “New Year’s Six” bowl games are the two college playoff semifinals, along with the Fiesta, Cotton, Orange and Peach Bowls.

Penn State’s most likely destination appears to be the Cotton Bowl, most experts agree. CBSSports.com’s Jerry Palm says the Nittany Lions are headed there, and would face Auburn should the Tigers fall to Georgia in Saturday’s SEC title game. ESPN college football expert Kyle Bonaugura agrees that Penn State is Cotton Bowl-bound, but says the Nittany Lions will take on TCU out of the Big 12 instead. (In that same ESPN article, another predictor, David M. Hale, says Penn State in the Orange Bowl against Miami.)

The York Daily Record also says the Cotton Bowl is the most likely spot for Penn State, as does the Allentown Morning Call and Pennlive.com.

Projections are a tricky business, since so much is riding on how Saturday’s conference championship games play out. For example, if Ohio State knocks off Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship but is left out of the College Football Playoff, the domino effect could potentially knock Penn State out of the running for a “New Year’s Six” bowl game, depending on how the bowl game selection committee ranks the Lions against Ohio State and Wisconsin.

The reason the Cotton Bowl appears to be a likely landing spot for Penn State is that it has no contractual obligation to any conference, so it can pit two at-large bids against one another. The same is true of the Fiesta and Peach Bowls, but there are other factors in play.

In the case of the Fiesta Bowl, if USC wins the Pac-12 title, it would likely go there. But Ohio State has played in the Fiesta Bowl six times since 2003, and there’s speculation that organizers might not want the Buckeyes back there again. But they also might not want to see USC and Penn State play again, since those teams faced off in last year’s Rose Bowl. That might open a pathway to the Peach Bowl for the Nittany Lions instead.

The highest-ranked mid-major title winner is guaranteed a “New Year’s Six” bowl bid, and the Peach Bowl is a likely destination for either Central Florida or Memphis out of the American Athletic Conference. There’s some speculation that either Penn State or Ohio State could wind up there as the opponent.

The whole thing will work itself out Sunday, when the bowl matchups are announced.

Until then, stay tuned.