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Penn State accepts invitation to Cotton Bowl, will take on AAC champion Memphis

The Nittany Lions held out hope for a Rose Bowl bid, but the invitation went to Wisconsin instead despite the Badgers' 34-21 loss to Ohio State in Big Ten championship game.

Penn State defensive end Shaka Toney (18),  chasing Purdue quarterback Peyton Ramsey in a game earlier this season, and his teammates have accepted a Cotton Bowl bid to play Memphis on Dec. 28. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)
Penn State defensive end Shaka Toney (18), chasing Purdue quarterback Peyton Ramsey in a game earlier this season, and his teammates have accepted a Cotton Bowl bid to play Memphis on Dec. 28. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)Read moreBarry Reeger / AP

The New Year’s 6 bowl assignment for Penn State probably wasn’t what most members of Nittany Nation had hoped.

Instead of a second trip to the Rose Bowl in the last four years, the Nittany Lions received and accepted Sunday an invitation to play in the Dec. 28 Cotton Bowl against Memphis, their first appearance in that bowl game since 1975.

The Lions had hoped that Wisconsin’s 34-21 loss to Ohio State in Saturday night’s Big Ten championship game would have cleared the way for a Rose Bowl trip. But the College Football Playoff selection committee ranked the Badgers No. 8, two rungs ahead of Penn State, and it’s Wisconsin heading to Pasadena.

James Franklin, who will be in his sixth straight bowl game as the Lions’ head coach and his ninth in a row overall, said he was excited about the Cotton Bowl, which will be played at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, home of the Dallas Cowboys and owner Jerry Jones.

“I have never been to the Cotton Bowl,” he said Sunday during a conference call. “I’m looking forward to that opportunity. I’m looking forward to being in Dallas. I’m looking forward to being at Jerry World. I’m looking forward to it all. I think it’s going to be a tremendous opportunity for our fans, not only in Dallas and Texas specifically but also across the country. It’s going to be fantastic.

“There’s always that percentage of fans that may have different opinions on social media and they can be vocal. But I know the great majority of our fans couldn’t be more excited about this opportunity and I know our team feels the same way.”

The Nittany Lions, who will be playing in their 50th bowl game, finished the regular season with a 10-2 record, 7-2 in the Big Ten. The Tigers, ranked 17th in the final CFP standings, ended up 12-1 with their only loss coming against Temple, and earned the Group of 5 berth in the New Year’s 6 with a 29-24 win over Cincinnati in the AAC championship game Saturday.

That was the Memphis finale for coach Mike Norvell, who left Sunday to take over at Florida State, a program that had flirted with Franklin. Penn State announced Friday that it had come to terms on a new six-year contract for Franklin through the 2025 season.

“We are happy for Coach and wishing him nothing but the best at Florida State,” said offensive line coach Ryan Silverfield, who has been named interim head coach. “We are just focused on myself and the staff that’s in place right now, coaching this bowl game, and the chips will fall where they may.”

The game matches the Penn State defense, which is seventh in the nation in points allowed (14.1 per game) and 23rd in total yards allowed (330.2 per game), against a Memphis offense that averaged 40.5 points (eighth in FBS) and 480.7 total yards (10th) per game. Tigers quarterback Brady White threw for 3,560 yards and 33 touchdowns with nine interceptions.

Franklin said he became familiar with the Memphis program while he was head coach at Vanderbilt and that he has seen the Tigers on television.

“From what I’ve seen they’re a very, very athletic team,” he said. “They’re a very confident team. They play with a tremendous amount of confidence and they’re used to winning and have been doing it now for a number of years. I know they’re going to come into this game expecting to do the same thing.”

Franklin on his new contract

Franklin said coming to terms on a new contract was “about consistency … and obviously some areas that we think we need to take the next step in.” He said he appreciated the chance to speak with vice president of athletics Sandy Barbour, university president Eric Barron and members of the board of trustees on “what we can do to continue to make our community proud and the university proud and our lettermen proud.

“We keep chipping away at that, so we continue to make significant progress and we want to continue to do that,” he said.