Penn State's football team will end a winning season this weekend but the sex abuse allegations against former Penn State assistant Jerry Sandusky -- which led to the firing of iconic coach Joe Paterno-- could make the Nittany Lions a pariah at the postseason college football bowl party, Reuters reports.
With nine wins and only two losses going into the final game of the season against No. 15 Wisconsin, No. 20 Penn State would be poised in a normal year for an invitation to a lucrative, high-profile bowl game, but according to some college football prognosticators, the university could be passed over by the major bowls and end up in the postseason minor leagues.
Acting head coach Tom Bradley said this week that he doubted the team would be kept out of a postseason game.
"Our administration has assured us ... that's not the case," he said.
Stewart Mandel, a college football analyst with the Sports Illustrated website SI.com, said Penn State could fall all the way to the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Houston, which pays out to the participants' league only about half the money of top bowls, Reuters reports.
"Bowl committees will likely steer clear of Penn State in the wake of its ongoing scandal," he wrote. "Yes, their fans will travel, but it won't be worth the week of negative publicity."
Bowl invitations will be announced on December 4 and executives of top bowls are being careful not to disparage Penn State publicly.
"Never in my 15 years have I seen or even heard of anything like this (Penn State scandal)," said Steve Hogan, CEO of Florida Citrus Sports, which sponsors the Capital One Bowl in Orlando on New Year's Day. He said he hoped the scandal would not end up hurting the players who had nothing to do with it.
Penn State could save itself the suspense by beating Wisconsin on Saturday and and will take on Legends division winner Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis next Saturday. If PSU wins, this would guarantee the team a spot in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, the oldest bowl game in the nation.
But the Nittany Lions start as an underdog against Wisconsin, according to bookmakers. If the team loses, Penn State's postseason fate is out of the team's hands.
This week, Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez urged fans to treat Penn State with "the class and dignity that is called for" on Saturday. And Badgers players said they admire the way the Nittany Lions have played.
"Every good football team gets a chance to face adversity and what makes you a good football team is how you handle adversity," Wisconsin offensive lineman Travis Frederick said. "You know, obviously, in the games they've played and things they've had going on, for them to handle it the way that they have, they've been playing well continually. That shows that they're a good team and that they have good leadership."
Penn State interim coach Tom Bradley made it known this week that he would like to be considered for the job on a full-time basis, but understands the reality that the school's administration might want to clean house.
For now, Bradley is most worried about doing whatever he can to help this year's team win a title.
"If I end up not getting the job, I can look back and say I gave everything I had to help those guys win a championship," Bradley said. "And someday down the road, no matter how many years down the road, they'll say, `Hey, Coach worked for us until the end.' Sometimes I would much rather maybe have their respect knowing that not only myself, but all the coaches down there, trainers, doctors, strength coaches, did everything they could to help them reach one of their dreams, which is to be on the championship team."
Penn State still has something to play for largely because of its defense. The Nittany Lions lead the Big Ten in scoring defense, giving up 13 points per game.
But given the strength of a high-octane Badgers offense powered by a pair of potential Heisman Trophy candidates, Ball and quarterback Russell Wilson, Bradley acknowledges that the Nittany Lions will have to be more productive on offense to have a chance to win.
"Obviously, we have to score some points," Bradley said. "No one beats this team without scoring points. Because they're going to get their points no matter what. They're just that good."
Penn State added a new wrinkle to its offense in last week's victory at Ohio State -- a wildcat look, run by wide receivers Curtis Drake and Bill Belton.
Bradley watched Belton simulate Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez during practice as the Nittany Lions prepared to face the Cornhuskers two weeks ago, and was so impressed with what he saw that he decided to incorporate it into their offense.
"So we decided to take a look at it," Bradley said. "We just put in certain things off of it and we can expand that a little bit each week if we want to. And that's what really led to the decision. I thought we needed to change up, something to change the tempo of the game ... maybe they'd now have to take a look and say, `Geez, that looks good, but what if they come up with the option?' It changes everybody's defense."
That gave the Badgers and coach Bret Bielema something else to prepare for. And given that Drake and Belton both were quarterbacks in high school, Bielema is ready for the possibility that the Nittany Lions will start throwing out of the wildcat, too.
"I'm glad we didn't get surprised by it," Bielema said. "I'd heard about it during the course of the day (on Saturday). Then when I popped the film in on Sunday, they ran a couple of guys at the position, both of them wide receivers by nature, both Drake and Delton, but both of them have quarterback backgrounds."
For the Badgers, Saturday's game is a chance to continue their rebound from back-to-back losses at Michigan State and Ohio State earlier this season. Those losses took the Badgers out of the national championship picture, but the Rose Bowl remains a possibility.
"I feel like we always have something to play for," Frederick said. "And whether or not it's because we lost two games or because we want to win the next game, it comes down to going out and respecting the game."
And while Badgers players have been shocked by recent events at Penn State, that won't matter once the ball is kicked on Saturday.
"No one saw that coming," Badgers guard Kevin Zeitler said. "It's just a shocker, such a big thing. We've just got to focus on our season. It's a big shock, but I think they're all right."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.