ANAHEIM, Calif. - It was as if Mickey Mouse and Nemo were being introduced together at yesterday's Rose Bowl media event at Disneyland.

Southern Cal was Mickey, as synonymous with the Rose Bowl as the affable mouse is with Disney. And Penn State was Nemo, the new character in Southern California getting all the attention because of its freshness.

Of course, everyone seems to think Mickey is going to sink Nemo when the Trojans and Nittany Lions meet on Thursday.

But yesterday's manufactured meeting of both coaches and their captains was significant because it exhibited the reach of Penn State and Joe Paterno and the been-there, done-that feel as USC plays in its fifth Rose Bowl in six years and 33d overall.

"It's great to be here," Paterno said after being introduced as a living legend to great applause. "It's great to play a team the caliber of Southern Cal."

Trojans coach Pete Carroll couldn't muster the same enthusiasm, despite his best efforts.

"It's great to be back here at the Rose Bowl again," Carroll said in front of the Sleeping Beauty Castle. "You can't imagine how excited we are to be here."

In their four previous Rose Bowl games against Big Ten teams, the Trojans won all four by an average of 17 points. Last year, they flattened Illinois, 49-17. Earlier this season, they embarrassed Ohio State, 35-3. For those reasons primarily the Trojans are 91/2-point favorites over a team that finished with an identical 11-1 record.

"This year doesn't have anything to do with any other year," Carroll said. "This game doesn't have anything to do with any other game. This is right now. It's us playing them."

But still, the prevailing opinion is that Penn State ventured west for a vacation and a slaughtering.

"If you talk to USC, I think they know we have a good football team," Penn State center A.Q. Shipley said. "We know we have a good football team. But in terms of the national media and the national picture, not many people are giving us a shot. We kind of like that."

At the Home Depot college football awards that Shipley attended earlier this month, ESPN displayed a map of the United States with how each state predicted a winner in the Rose Bowl. Only Pennsylvania chose the Lions.

"We're well aware of it," Shipley said.

Carroll has done his best to downplay USC's seeming invincibility. The Trojans boast the best defense in the nation statistically and have made Pasadena a home away from the Coliseum. Still, he insists his players aren't overconfident.

"How can we be overconfident playing an 11-1 team that lost by one point?" Carroll said. "That just doesn't enter into anything. This is a great football team that was a point away from being in the national championship."

Penn State's last-second 24-23 loss to Iowa on Nov. 8 ended its national title hopes. USC's 27-21 loss to Oregon State on Sept. 25 effectively ended its aspirations. Many feel this game is the second-best bowl game after the national title game between Oklahoma and Florida.

Penn State, meanwhile, has tried its best to make Southern California feel like a home away from home. The last of the team arrived on Sunday. A short practice was held that day. Two full-out practices were held the following two days.

"We worked hard the first couple of days," Shipley said. "I think that was one of the things [Paterno] wanted to get done. He wanted us to get used to the weather and back in the swing of things hitting each other."

Shipley described the practices as preseason-level intensity. Paterno, though, gave the players Christmas Day and yesterday off.

"Why fight it? The kids worked like dogs to get here, and it's a reward," Paterno said. "They're here to have some fun, but when it comes time to play, we'll play as well as we can play. I'm not worried about that."

The Lions stayed in Santa Monica for the first four days but couldn't enjoy the beach because the weather was very un-Los Angeles like. They moved downtown on Wednesday and have been able to explore a little more that the city has to offer.

"I thought I would see more stars," defensive end Josh Gaines said.

It was the Lions, however, who were treated like young stars at yesterday's media event.

Contact staff writer Jeff McLane at 215-854-4745 or jmclane@phillynews.com.