Kathy Willens
December 26, 2014

Take Penn State out to the bowl game. The Nittany Lions' postseason freeze out is over, a triumphant bowl return ahead at Yankee Stadium.

The Nittany Lions (6-6) were dismissed early for good behavior from the bowl ban the NCAA levied in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Instead of sitting home, Penn State is set to play Boston College (7-5) on Saturday in the Pinstripe Bowl.

The NCAA lifted the most severe sanctions levied against the program in the wake of the Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. The Nittany Lions suddenly saw a season playing for pride turn into so much more.

PSU star linebacker Mike Hull is one of 39 holdovers from the summer of 2012 still with the program. Another 10 recruits as part of the incoming class, including sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg, kept Penn State together for two competitive seasons under former coach Bill O'Brien.

Hackenberg should have been eligible for a potential bowl game his senior season. Knowing a bowl bid for his first three seasons appeared unlikely, he stayed committed to Penn State out of Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia anyway.

''It really wasn't an issue for me,'' he said. ''But it's a great opportunity, not only for myself, but everyone on the team. The guys who stayed, the seniors, it's a great opportunity for them. For me, it wasn't a deciding factor going into it.''

Joe Paterno was the winningest coach in major college football history when he was fired not long after Sandusky, his former defensive coordinator, was charged in November 2011. Paterno died in January 2012 and lost his record when the NCAA vacated those 111 victories.

O'Brien left for the Houston Texans of the NFL after last season and Franklin was hired away from Vanderbilt to take his place.

The university still must pay a $60 million fine, vacate 111 wins that came under Paterno, plus another victory under interim coach Tom Bradley, and the school will remain under monitoring.

No active Penn State player has won a bowl game.

''The emotion for us isn't about the bowl, it's about our family being together,'' Franklin said.

While the game will not hold the same emotional significance for Boston College, coach Steve Addazio said the Eagles were proud of their berth.

''It means the world to Boston College to be here,'' Addazio said. ''When you have respect, when there are relationships'' between the programs it is a positive thing.

Quarterback Tyler Murphy said he went to last year's Pinstripe Bowl, when Notre Dame beat Rutgers 29-16. A native of Wethersfield, Connecticut, he grew up as a Yankees fan.

''I keep it quiet, though,'' he said.

Here are some other things to know about the Pinstripe Bowl

LINEBACKER U: Penn State boasts the top-ranked run defense and No. 2 overall defense nationally. The Nittany Lions allow only 84.8 yards per game. ''The film backs up the stats,'' Addazio said. It should be an interesting matchup against a Boston College offense that is among the best nationally with 251.8 yards per game. In BC's seven wins this season, the Eagles have outrushed opponents, 2,115-284. Mike Hull, an All-Big Ten First-Team selection and the conference's Butkus-Fitzgerald Linebacker of the Year award winner, leads the defense with 134 tackles, which is tops in the league.

BOWL HISTORY: Addazio has Boston College in a bowl game for the second straight season. It's one reason why he was rewarded with a contract extension through 2020. BC is 13-10 (.565) in the postseason.

Even with the bowl ban, Penn State has one of the best bowl marks in NCAA history. Penn State will play in its 45th bowl game, tied for No. 9 nationally. The Nittany Lions' 27 bowl wins are tied for No. 4 nationally with Georgia and Texas, and lead all Big Ten teams. Penn State's 64 percent winning percentage in bowl games (27-15-2 record) is No. 3 nationally among teams with at least 20 postseason appearances. Penn State has won four of its last seven bowl appearances, with victories in the 2006 FedEx Orange Bowl (Florida State), 2007 Outback Bowl (Tennessee), 2007 Alamo Bowl (Texas A&M) and 2010 Capital One Bowl (LSU). The losses came in the 2009 Rose Bowl (USC), 2011 Outback Bowl (Florida) and 2012 TicketCity Bowl (Houston).

RIVALY RENEWED: The Eagles played the Nittany Lions 22 times in a rivalry dating to 1949. Penn State dominated the series, winning the first 19 of 20 games. The Eagles have won the last three matchups in 1993, 2003 and 2004. The two teams have never met on neutral territory.

BIG THROW: Hackenberg has a Penn State sophomore record 2,606 yards passing with eight TDs. He has spread the ball around to various targets, including freshman DaeSean Hamilton with his 75 catches for 848 yards.

PACKED HOUSE: Jeter. Rivera. Hackenberg? Turns out, New Yorkers (and BC and PSU alumns) love college football in Yankee Stadium. Mark Holtzman, who runs non-baseball events for the New York Yankees, said the game sold out in 36 hours - the fastest of the five Pinstripe Bowls so far.

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