STATE COLLEGE - The brown khakis were slightly rumpled, and the Nike sneakers were the trademark jet black. A cane, however, was nowhere in sight when Joe Paterno walked into the auditorium with nary a limp.

Nearly three weeks after hip replacement surgery, the Hall of Famer is easing back into his old routine at the job he's had 43 years: coaching No. 6 Penn State (11-1).

And there's quite a workload awaiting: preparing the Nittany Lions for a glitzy New Year's Day matchup against No. 5 Southern California at the Rose Bowl.

He'd like to coach that game from the sideline, where he hasn't been able to work since the Sept. 27 win over Illinois because of the injury. Paterno said he won't make that decision until he tests his legs on the practice field closer to the game.

Otherwise, rehab appears to be going well for Paterno, who turns 82 on Dec. 21.

"Oh gee, I feel great, I really do," he said yesterday. "It's tough when you're in pain all day and sometimes you get to the point where you don't know whether it's worth it. Now, I feel good."

He has been back on his feet at times at practice, though yesterday he spent the first 20 minutes in a golf cart with a cane close by, offering soft advice.

He pitched a walker 2 days after surgery. The cane only comes out if he's going to be on his feet for too long, he said.

"It's amazing, last Saturday, he was out of his cart walking around. I haven't seen him do that for a while," safety Anthony Scirrotto said. "It's just amazing how he keeps bouncing back."

Away from the constant prodding and poking of doctors, Paterno can concentrate once again on coaching, though one of the biggest issues this week has been a player who won't be with the team in Pasadena.

Pat Devlin's decision to transfer left the Nittany Lions with just one scholarship quarterback, senior Paul Cianciolo, behind Daryll Clark headed into the bowl game. Clark has turned into a topflight starter in the tough Big Ten.

Receiver Derrick Williams has also lined up at quarterback a few times this season on running plays.

While Devlin didn't see much playing time, his steady presence was a nice security blanket for the offense given that the physical Clark has had minor injuries at times. Devlin scored the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter of the win over Ohio State after Clark left with a concussion.

Paterno initially asked Devlin if still wanted to come to the Rose Bowl, but Devlin left the decision to the coach, at which point Paterno said he then thought his presence in Pasadena might be a distraction.

Both Clark and Paterno said the offense won't change for the bowl with depth now an issue at quarterback.

"One thing that no one notices, if someone were to get hurt, the game plan doesn't change," Clark said. "I don't think the confidence will be shaken if I we to go down, God forbid ... We'll be fine either way."

There is, however, concern for next season and beyond. With Cianciolo graduating, there will be no one behind Clark who has seen time at QB, so Penn State must press for a top high school player in the next recruiting class to replenish depth. Clark has one year of eligibility left.

For now at least, that issue in on the backburner.

"We got a ballgame to play in a couple weeks," Paterno said. "I'll worry about that when the game is over."

His coaching future also isn't a pressing concern, even though JoePa's current contract expires after the season is over.

Following the Nov. 22 win over Michigan State, Paterno ended weeks of retirement speculation by saying he planned to return in 2009, and that he hoped to hammer out details with his bosses in the weeks following.

But Paterno went into surgery the next day, and he has been busy with rehab and bowl prep since then.

Paterno said he has spoken with athletic director Tim Curley about a "couple possibilities," but won't be concerned if something doesn't happen before the bowl game. *