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TicketCity Bowl Preview: Houston, Penn State Take Different Paths to Dallas

Dallas isn't really all that far from New Orleans, right?
Dallas isn't really all that far from New Orleans, right?

TicketCity Bowl, Jan. 2, 12 p.m. ET, ESPNU

What it is: The only bowl that ESPN deemed insignificant enough to be placed on the U

The Sponsor: The off-brand StubHub

The Teams: Houston and Penn State

How Houston got here: By losing its first game at the worst possible time. The Cougars had a ticket to a BCS bowl bid already punched, provided they could defeat Southern Miss in the Conference USA Championship Game. Since they're here, you can probably guess how that one ended up. Houston won many of those games with offense; it led the nation in passing, total and scoring offense -- but you knew that because of the Heisman candidacy of Case Keenum. What you probably didn't know is that the defense wasn't that bad -- not good, by any means, but not as bad as conventional wisdom says. In fact, Houston held its opponents to fewer than 20 points in almost half of its games, and limited five opponents to fewer than 300 yards of total offense. (One of those opponents in both cases was Georgia State of the FCS, so keep that in mind.)

How Penn State got here: There's no use glossing over the fact that a 9-3 Big Ten team would not be in this bowl game were it not for the off-the-field issues that cost Joe Paterno his job. But we'll try to focus on the football here. The Nittany Lions' offense was one of the worst in the nation when it comes to results -- 110th in scoring -- and better than 93rd in just one of the major categories -- rushing offense, where they were 48th best overall and eighth in the run-heavy Big Ten. But the defense allowed less than 16 points a game and just under 301 yards per contest. Alabama, which defeated Penn State 27-11 in the second game of the year -- was one of three teams to break 20 points against the Nittany Lions, the other two being Northwestern (which lost anyway) and Wisconsin in a 45-7 victory. The flip side of that is that Alabama was one of seven teams to limit Penn State to fewer than 20 points.

College football fans care because: It's the first Penn State bowl game without Joe Paterno on the sideline since the 1500s.

SEC fans care because: There are three SEC teams with 1 p.m. ET bowl games, so most of them don't.

Watch this game if...: You really don't want to watch any of the SEC East teams play their bowl games.

The result: Houston 34, Penn State 20