ANAHEIM, Calif. - The biggest question in the run up to the Rose Bowl remains unanswered.

Penn State coach Joe Paterno still hasn't decided whether he will coach from the sideline or the press box during the Nittany Lions' game against Southern California on New Year's Day. Paterno acknowledged that he is taking medication to prevent blood-clotting, a concern after surgery.

"The biggest thing is that I don't want to be a distraction or have people worry about me," said Paterno, Penn State's head coach since 1966. "The other question is standing for 3 1/2 hours. I want to be careful."

Paterno, who has 383 coaching victories, walked to the Disneyland podium without a cane but with somewhat restricted movement 5 weeks after his hip-replacement surgery. Paterno, 82, confirmed that he has signed the 3-year contract extension. He didn't say for certain that all of his assistants also received contract extensions, but doesn't expect many changes on the staff.

"They would have been taken care of whether I stayed or not," Paterno said. "I have an obligation to my staff. The staff did a heckuva job."

The Nittany Lions, who were 11-1 during the regular season and won the Big Ten crown, did not practice yesterday before the trip to Disneyland. Paterno said he gave the team the day off because he thought they could use a second straight day away from practice.

"We're playing a great team and we want to be ready to play as well as we can," said Paterno, who added that at previous bowls he might have two practices a day. The team is practicing at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., about 15 minutes east of downtown Los Angeles and a 45-minute ride from the Nittany Lions headquarters. "We want to come out here and have fun. Being at Disneyland would have the kids on their feet all day, and I want them to have some bounce in their step."

The Nittany Lions' last Rose Bowl appearance was in 1995, when they defeated Oregon, 38-20. Penn State made its first-ever postseason appearance in the 1923 Rose Bowl, losing to Southern Cal, 14-3. USC coach Pete Carroll noted that 1923 game in his remarks, claiming there was an altercation between the coaches at halftime of that game.

"The coaches duked it out at halftime of that game," Carroll claimed. "I know coach Paterno and Penn State will come out to fight, but I don't think we'll use fists."

Carroll expressed his respect for Paterno, saying he first became aware of Penn State when it was known as "Linebacker University." Carroll, who has guided the Trojans to four consecutive Rose Bowls, said he was more concerned with the upcoming game than whether he would coach until he was 82.

"He's an idol and he personifies college football," Carroll said. "The amazing thing isn't that he has won so many games, but how he survives the losses. Because that is the sort of thing that coaches have a hard time with."

Center and co-captain A.Q. Shipley said he wasn't surprised by Paterno agreeing to stay for 3 more years.

"Coach just continues to amaze he," said Shipley, a senior.

The game figures to be a defensive struggle, as USC has the top defenses in college football. The Trojans posted three shutouts, and allowed only three points in three other contests. Only two opponents scored more than 10 points against USC, one of which was Oregon State. The Beavers handed USC a 27-21 defeat, keeping the 11-1 Trojans from an undefeated season and possible shot at the BCS championship.

"I'm always looking for a low-scoring game on our end because I'm a defensive coach," said Carroll, who noted that Penn State has a great defense that is balanced and shows no obvious weaknesses.

Paterno said he couldn't pick out a part of the USC defense that he would single out as stronger than another.

"They are as good a defense as we have faced," Paterno said. "You name a part of the game on defense, and they are good." *