As he talked about Penn State’s upcoming TicketCity Bowl matchup against No. 20 Houston on Jan. 2 in Dallas, Jack Crawford had a big smile across his face.
The senior defensive end told a group of reporters at Monday’s bowl media day that he and his fellow upperclassmen were excited for one final opportunity to play as a team against a talented opponent.
The positive outlook exhibited toward the game by Crawford and other Nittany Lion players Monday was a far cry from their attitudes toward the situation when it was announced on Dec. 4 that Penn State would play in the TicketCity Bowl.
Senior co-captain Quinn Barham said some of the team’s initial reaction to the bowl bid left several players — particularly the younger players — “pissed off,” requiring a team meeting to discuss the situation.
“It really took a lot of seniors and older guys and coaches to come down and talk to us,” Barham said. “You know, ‘Just calm down. Just deal with it, go down and play ball and not worry about outside distractions.’ ”
Junior fullback Michael Zordich said much of the negative reaction from the team came from the players being told playing in the TicketCity Bowl meant Penn State was the seventh-best team in the Big Ten. He said the team felt disrespected that it was considered the seventh-best squad in the conference, when it reality the Lions were third or fourth.
“We had a lot of talks about that,” Zordich said of the displeasure regarding the bowl bid. “It had nothing to do with where we were going. It was just why we were going there. That’s what a lot of the guys had a problem with.”
Barham said there were a lot of players who didn’t had “anger of the moment” and initially wanted to elect not to play in Dallas.
Fellow senior Chima Okoli said the room was very opinionated when the Lions talked about their selection. The offensive tackle said at the end of the day, cooler heads prevailed. He said it’s hard to be angry at any of the bowls that passed up on Penn State for trying to make the best possible financial decision.
The team wasn’t alone at the meeting a couple weeks ago, as acting athletic director Dave Joyner talked to the group.
“[Joyner] just wanted to keep us encouraged,” Barham said. “He said, ‘I understand what you guys are going through. I’ve done my best trying to fight for you guys. Just stay strong and fight through it and play another game.’ ”
The Lions have taken Joyner’s advice, and the team has its sights set on a victory over Houston and its high-powered offensive attack.
Interim head coach Tom Bradley said it’s not unhealthy to have concerns, and it may help to bring the team together. Bradley said the team is coming off “three great practices” in preparation for the Cougars.
As the Lions have for the last month and a half, they’re keeping their focus on the task at hand, which is now a date with Houston on Jan. 2 in Dallas.
“We don’t select ourselves into bowls,” Okoli said. “Our job is to come out and work as hard as we possibly can to represent this university. I think that right now, that’s more important than ever.”