Talk about opposite ends of the coaching spectrum. Penn State's Joe Paterno is preparing for his 500th game at the school in the Alamo Bowl against Texas A&M, whose Gary Darnell will coach in his first and last game at the school.

The Aggies yesterday accepted the bid to play the Nittany Lions (8-4) in San Antonio, Texas, on Dec. 29.

Paterno, who will be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame tomorrow, has been the Lions' head coach for 42 years. Darnell, on the other hand, will coach the Aggies only for the bowl game.

After Texas A&M (7-5) upset Texas in the regular-season finale Nov. 23, fifth-year coach Dennis Franchione resigned during the postgame news conference.

Darnell, the Aggies' defensive coordinator, was named interim coach the day after. Two days later, however, former Green Bay Packers head coach Mike Sherman was signed to a seven-year contract, effective after the bowl game.

Darnell, a former head coach at Tennessee Tech and most recently at Western Michigan from 1997 to 2004, at least will have the chance to end his tenure undefeated and steer Texas A&M to its first bowl win since 2001.

"I think the easiest way to describe it is [Paterno] is going for his 500th game, and I'm just trying to win one," Darnell said yesterday during a conference call. "It's daunting."

The last time the teams met happened to be in the Alamo Bowl in 1999. The Lions shut out the Aggies, 24-0, and hold a 2-1 series lead. The teams split a home-and-home series from 1979-80.

Paterno, meanwhile, also will coach in his 34th bowl game and will try to win his 23d postseason game. The 80-year-old coach said he hasn't seen much of Texas A&M, but that should change now that the Lions know their task.

While Paterno acknowledged last week that the regular-season-ending loss to Michigan State still stung, he wasn't sure a victory over the Aggies would provide redemption for the still-smarting Lions.

"I don't know if it's more redemption . . . like we're coming back from the dead," Paterno said during the conference call. "We played well. We played tough. We were in just about every game we played except for maybe Ohio State."

Texas A&M should be sky high after knocking off its rival in the season finale, but the stunning resignation of Franchione has many players - if not the program - reeling.

"This was Coach Franchione's first recruiting class, and there was a special bond there," Darnell said of the Aggies seniors.

Franchione alienated some of Texas A&M's old guard, especially former coach R.C. Slocum.

Sherman was an assistant under Slocum. Ultimately, it was wins and losses that did in Franchione. The Aggies went 32-28 during his tenure, and this season they endured three straight losses before the Texas win. Those setbacks, though, were to three top-10 teams: Kansas, Oklahoma and Missouri.

Texas A&M isn't a flashy team. Still, junior quarterback Stephen McGee is one of the Big Twelve's better signal callers, and the Aggies do show some grit.

"We're kind of a blue-collar team," Darnell said.

Because Penn State will have a few players at graduation Dec. 22, Paterno said the team wouldn't travel to San Antonio until Dec. 23. Darnell said the Aggies would make the three-hour trip from College Station a day later.

Of course, the main concern for Texas A&M is not travel plans, but whether Darnell can assume the wheel.

"Someone has to drive the bus," Darnell said.

Alamo Bowl

Penn State vs.

Texas A&M

8 p.m. Dec. 29

in San Antonio, Texas.

TV:

ESPN.

Contact staff writer Jeff McLane

at 215-854-4745 or jmclane@phillynews.com.