STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — The final game of No. 24 Penn State's tumultuous season will be played on Jan. 2 in the Ticket City Bowl against No. 20 Houston.
Penn State and the bowl made the official announcements Sunday night on their respective websites.
The Nittany Lions (9-3, 6-2) finished tied with Wisconsin for first in the Big Ten Leaders Division.
But the program is in turmoil after former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was charged last month with sexually abusing eight boys over a 15-year span. School trustees fired Hall of Fame coach Joe Paterno in the aftermath of the charges amid mounting criticism that Paterno and other school leaders should have done more to prevent alleged abuse.
The Ticket City Bowl, played at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, had the seventh selection out of bowls with Big Ten tie-ins, after the BCS games.
Despite the horror of the allegations against Sandusky, who retired in 1999, Penn State president Rodney Erickson and interim coach Tom Bradley said the team still deserved to play in a bowl game because the players had nothing to do with the scandal that has enveloped the school and its treasured football program.
Penn State announced last week it would donate its share of conference bowl proceeds this year — about $1.5 million — to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. The revenue usually goes back to the athletic department.
School administrators believe "this opportunity is a fitting acknowledgement of the hard work, dedication and perseverance our student-athletes have exhibited during this especially challenging season," Erickson said Sunday night in a statement. "As Penn State continues to move forward from recent events we are committed to help break the silence that surrounds child sexual abuse and lead to better protection of our children."
Wisconsin and Penn State finished with identical 6-2 conference records, though the Badgers won the division after beating the Nittany Lions 45-7 in the last week of the regular season.
The only other Big Ten teams with fewer than three conference losses in the regular season were Michigan State (one) and Michigan (two).
Penn State also tied with Nebraska for the second-best overall record in the regular season in the conference at 9-3, behind the Spartans, Wolverines and Badgers, who all finished at 10-2.
Yet among potential landing spots, Penn State got bypassed by the Insight Bowl, which had the fourth selection and was to announce its pick later Sunday; and the Gator Bowl, which had the fifth selection. The Gator Bowl took Ohio State (6-6, 3-5) to face Florida, setting up a matchup featuring incoming Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer against his former team.
Ohio State lost to Penn State this season, as did Northwestern (6-6, 3-5), which was taken by the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas with the Big Ten's sixth bowl selection.
Houston (12-1) fell from a potential berth in the Bowl Championship Series to the Ticket City after getting upset by Southern Mississippi on Saturday in the Conference USA title game.
Now the Ticket City Bowl gets a relatively high-profile matchup between the Nittany Lions, who usually draw large postseason crowds, and the Cougars and star quarterback Case Keenum playing in their home state.
"Our goal from the start was to bring major college postseason football back to historic Cotton Bowl Stadium, and with this extraordinary matchup ... we believe we have accomplished that objective," bowl president Tom Starr said in a statement.
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