Despite an impressive close to the 2016 season that included a fantastic comeback win in the Big Ten Championship Game, the Penn State Nittany Lions are seen, at least by many, as underdogs in the Rose Bowl. On Wednesday, Penn State’s hopes of pulling an “upset” over the USC Trojans also took an additional hit, as both junior WR Saeed Blacknall and sophomore LB Manny Bowen were suspended for what the program terms as violation of team rules.
Blacknall caught 15 passes for 347 yards and three touchdowns this season after catching a combined 18 passes for 343 yards and two scores over his first two seasons of eligibility. Bowen started 12 of the team’s 13 games while finishing fifth on the team with 68 total tackles. Beyond that, the loss of Bowen could impact Penn State’s ability to create havoc in the USC backfield, as the talented linebacker added 8.5 tackles for loss and two sacks on the season.
While neither player rises to the level of a “star” in terms of on-field impact, Penn State’s depth will be severely tested against a team that is very talented in USC. It will be interesting to see how James Franklin and his staff scheme around the absences and, ultimately, what transpired to send both players away from the Rose Bowl.