At a quick glance, the TicketCity Bowl matchup between Houston and Penn State looks pretty interesting. You've got that whole big-conference vs. small-conference thing, as well as a matchup between the nation's top offense and one of the top defenses on Jan. 2 being played in one of the more historic college football venues.
The problem, though, is that motivation could be a significant issue on both sides. This is not the bowl game either team was hoping to play in, as this is a far cry from the Cotton Bowl, even if that's where it is played.
This game is being contested for just the second time and is basically a replacement for the actual Cotton Bowl Classic, which moved to Cowboys Stadium. While this game may be played in a stadium by that name, it really is much farther away than the 21-mile distance would suggest. For starters, the payout of this game is just $1.2 million, while the Cotton Bowl Classic has a purse of $7.25 million.
Point being, players may dream of playing in the Cotton Bowl, but they don't really dream about playing at the Cotton Bowl anymore. That goes doubly for this pair of teams.
For Houston (12-1), the disappointment was perhaps even more significant. Heading into the Conference USA championship game, the Cougars were undefeated, ranked No. 6 and had somewhat reasonable hopes of crashing the BCS party. A win over then No. 24 Southern Miss probably would have done the trick. Instead, they lost 49-28 against the only ranked team they played all year. To make the situation more complicated, head coach Kevin Sumlin has been linked to just about every coaching vacancy out there.
Penn State may actually be somewhat relieved to be playing in a less prestigious bowl game after the year they've gone through. The Nittany Lions (9-3) season has, of course, been overshadowed by the political and legal drama that has surrounded former coach Jerry Sandusky. They had started out the season 8-1 and also had hopes of playing in a BCS game.
Assuming these teams can get themselves prepared, though, this could be a fun game. The Cougars were easily the top offense in the country, averaging more than 500 yards and 50 points per game. Quarterback Case Keenum tossed 45 touchdowns and threw for 5,099 yards; wide receiver Patrick Edwards already has 1,524 receiving yards and has scored 15 touchdowns; and running back Charles Sims averages 7.5 yards per carry.
The Nittany Lions will easily be the best defense they've played though. Penn State has allowed the fifth fewest points per game (15.1) and the 10th fewest yards per game (300.9). They are especially good against the pass, allowing opponents a QB rating of 100.0, fifth best in the nation. Defensive lineman Devon Still has 19 tackles for a loss, the 14th best total in the nation.
This will be the third-ever encounter between these two teams. Penn State won both previous games, but the most recent was in 1977.