Of all the potential bowl opponents for Penn State, there’s one that clearly stands out as the most intriguing. Now, the location for the game doesn’t make much sense, but the matchup would be interesting for a number of reasons.
ESPN analyst Kyle Bonagura projected the Nittany Lions to play West Virginia in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl in Phoenix on Dec. 26. The bowl has Big Ten vs. Big 12 tie-ins.
Some other analysts also are projecting PSU to go to that bowl, but not to play the Mountaineers. Another ESPN analyst has WVU playing Rutgers in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl.
I didn’t realize until looking it up Monday that it’s been 28 years since Penn State played West Virginia. You have to go all the way back to 1992 for a matchup between the old Eastern rivals, who have met 59 times in a series that began in 1904. PSU has dominated the series with a 48-9-2 advantage.
“There’s not that many better options that are intriguing for these two teams right now in terms of bowl matchups,” Mike Asti from WVSportsNow.com said Monday on “Sports Central with Cory Giger” on WRTA in Altoona.
Fans agree, judging by the votes on this Twitter poll:
Who would PSU fans rather face in a bowl game?https://t.co/98TmbYHDPU
— Cory Giger (@CoryGiger) December 14, 2020
State College and Morgantown are separated by only 180 miles, which makes it even more unfortunate that these teams haven’t played in 28 years. And if they both have to fly all the way out to Phoenix to finally make a game happen, well, that would be typical of this insane 2020.
“To fly all the way out there, lose your holiday, you’re gonna be bubbled probably,” Asti said of the drawbacks.
Penn State also is projected by some to play in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl on Dec. 30 in Charlotte. It would be cool if those folks could line up a PSU-WVU matchup, but this bowl game has Big Ten vs. ACC tie-ins.
A PSU-WVU matchup would create a lot of intrigue around these parts. There would even be some situations like we see with families divided, such as when Penn State plays Pitt.
“It would have my house divided,” Asti said. “My fiancee is a Penn State alum, and I’m a WVU alum, so it would be interesting for us.
“I don’t know if the kids on either team would care,” Asti added. “When you have a rivalry you don’t play for 30 years, you lose generations of people caring about the game.”
Listen: Giger and Asti discuss possible PSU-WVU bowl matchup
Penn State has won three in a row after an 0-5 start. The Lions can pretty much become a lock for a bowl game if they beat Illinois on Saturday at Beaver Stadium.
West Virginia is 5-4 and has had an up-and-down season. The Mountaineers have wins over Kansas State and TCU, but lost their last game to Iowa State, 42-6, and had the regular-season finale against Oklahoma canceled.
There’s no doubt the Penn State camp will care going into a bowl game, because it would mean a chance at five consecutive wins to somewhat salvage the season after a terrible start.
Will West Virginia be as geared up as PSU for a bowl game?
“That’s another reason why I think it would be a cool game, because very rarely do you have a mediocre bowl game … where you have both teams geared up,” Asti said. “Usually one of those teams is mad about being in that game because they got upset or they’re upset about their conference tie-ins, or whatever. I think the Mountaineers (would like) the matchup with Penn State.”
The bowl game also will mean a lot to WVU’s second-year coach.
“Neal Brown would really want it,” Asti said. “Not only would it be his first WVU bowl win, but his first major conference bowl win.”
As for the actual football matchup, if one occurred, Asti said there would be more pressure on West Virginia than PSU.
“Penn State is in the midst of one of the worst years in the program in a long time, of course, the worst start ever,” he said. “People’s opinions on James Franklin are just gonna be what they are. It’s not gonna be moved off of winning a mediocre bowl game, whether it be in Charlotte or Arizona. It’s a season that no Penn State fan is gonna be thrilled about, even with a minor bowl victory.
“From a West Virginia perspective, even though it’s not a year you want to brag about, they’re rebuilding, it’s the second year for Neal Brown, so it’s important for him to finally get a big win under his belt. He doesn’t really have that, unless you include the Kansas State win, and they fell off the map after that game.
“But I think it’s important for him to get a big win, (and) even if it’s just a mediocre bowl game, for the program to freaking win a bowl game, because that was an issue toward the end with Dana Holgorsen (who was 1-5 in bowls at WVU).”
Penn State and WVU are scheduled to play a home-and-home series in 2023-24, with the first game in State College. So we’ll get to see these two old rivals square off before too long.
If we get to see it in a couple of weeks, that would be pretty cool, too.