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With each defeat, Penn State’s postseason plans involve a lower-tier bowl game

The Nittany Lions started 5-0, but now they're 6-4 and appear to be headed to the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium or the Music City Bowl in Nashville with two games left in the regular season

Penn State players thank fans at the end of the 2014 Pinstripe Bowl against Boston College at Yankee Stadium.
Penn State players thank fans at the end of the 2014 Pinstripe Bowl against Boston College at Yankee Stadium.Read more

When Penn State sped off to a 5-0 start in the 2021 season, it had dreams of its first-ever berth in the College Football Playoff, or at the very least, another nice trip to a New Year’s Six bowl game.

But with each defeat since then, four in its last five games, the Nittany Lions’ prospective bowl game sinks lower in the tier of postseason contests affiliated with the Big Ten.

The Lions lost Saturday at home, 21-17, to Michigan, a defeat that dropped their overall record to 6-4. The cadre of bowl prognosticators that had dropped Penn State’s predicted bowl to one of two on Jan. 1 — Outback and Citrus — now picture the destination as either the Pinstripe Bowl or the Music City Bowl.

The Pinstripe Bowl matching teams from the Big Ten and the ACC is scheduled for Dec. 29 at Yankee Stadium, with Virginia (6-4) seen as the most likely opponent. The Nittany Lions played in the Pinstripe Bowl in 2014, marking the end of James Franklin’s first season as head coach, and defeated Boston College, 31-30, in overtime.

The Music City Bowl is set for Dec. 30 in Nashville, Tenn., a game in which the Nittany Lions have not yet played. The opponent would be an SEC team, probably Arkansas (7-3), which moved into the AP top 25 this week at No. 21.

Penn State also shows in one prediction as headed to the Dec. 30 Las Vegas Bowl against Arizona State (7-3) of the Pac-12, and in another going to the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla., against Kentucky (7-3). Wildcats quarterback Will Levis transferred from Penn State to Kentucky after the end of last season, making that an interesting matchup.

The Lions have competed in the Outback Bowl four times, winning three times. Their most recent appearance was in 2011, a 37-24 loss to Florida in Joe Paterno’s 37th and final bowl game as head coach.

Franklin took Penn State to a bowl game in each of his first six seasons, going 3-3. Three of the Lions’ appearances were in New Year’s Six bowls — Rose in 2017, Fiesta in 2017, and Cotton in 2019.

The Nittany Lions’ players voted after their final game of 2020 against going to a bowl, seeking to spend time with family and friends after being isolated all season as a team because of the pandemic.