In what is being billed as the best non-BCS college bowl game of the 2011-12 season, the University of Houston takes the field to showcase its thrill-a-minute prolific offense, while at the same Penn State sets out to prove why its top-ten ranked defense sent shivers through offensive coordinators in the rugged Big Ten Conference this past season.
"We are pleased and honored to have two of this year’s truly outstanding college football teams," said TicketCity Bowl President Tom Starr about the first-ever post-season matchup between the Big Ten Conference vs. Conference USA. "Our goal from the start was to bring major college postseason football back to historic Cotton Bowl Stadium, and with this extraordinary match-up coupled with last year’s exciting Texas Tech-Northwestern game; we believe we have accomplished that objective."
The second annual TicketCity Bowl will be televised by ESPNU with a 12 noon (EST) kickoff.
Houston was 19th in the final BCS Standings released December 4. Penn State was No. 22. The Congrove Computer Rankings have Houston at No. 7 and Penn State at No. 28.
Houston was undefeated and headed for a BCS bowl until Southern Miss burst the Cougars' bubble with a 49-28 upset win at Houston in the Conference USA Championship game. The Cougars were a 10.58-point computer favorite in that game and they enter this contest as an 8.36-point computer pick.
But Houston will take the field for the first time with Tony Levine as head coach. Levine had been named interim head coach on December 10 when Kevin Sumlin left to take what had been Mike Sherman's job at Texas A&M. The "interim" tag was removed 11 days later.
Sumlin led Houston to a 12-0 record before falling to Southern Miss in the Conference USA Championship game. Sumlin was 35-17 in 4 seasons at Houston where his team also lost in the 2009 CUSA championship game to East Carolina. He is a former Texas A&M assistant under R.C. Slocum in 2001 and 2002.
Houston ranks first in the nation in passing (443.8 yards a game), total offense (599.0) and scoring (50.8 points a game).
Penn State, under the direction of interim head coach Tom Bradley is 10th in the nation in total defense (300.9) and fifth in points allowed (15.7 per game). Offensively, running back Silas Redd has rushed for 1,188 yards and seven touchdowns in 12 games to rank 26th nationally.
The 2012 TicketCity Bowl will be the final collegiate start for Case Keenum, the NCAA career record-holder for total offense (19,572 yards), passing yards (18,685), touchdown passes (152) and pass completions (1,501). Keenum is the first quarterback to reach 5,000 yards passing in three seasons.
The game will be the third between the two schools and first since November 14, 1977 when the Nittany Lions defeated Houston 31-14 in State College. Penn State won the first game in the series 24-7 at Rice Stadium in Houston on September 17, 1964.
Texas Tech of the Big 12 Conference won the inaugural TicketCity Bowl in 2011 by defeating Northwestern of the Big Ten Conference 45-38 as the two schools combined for 927 yards of total offense - most ever for a bowl game played in Dallas.