STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - Some Penn State players believe the Nittany Lions have something to prove in their Capital One Bowl matchup with Louisiana State. Others think the Lions have little to prove.
Coach Joe Paterno - surprise, surprise - is in the camp of the second group.
The 11th-ranked Nittany Lions (10-2) played two games against ranked teams - Iowa and Ohio State - and lost both. Their last chance to beat such a team comes on New Year's Day against the 13th-ranked Tigers, and some Lions emphasized the necessity of winning.
"We haven't beaten anybody in the top 25 this year, so that's kind of a big thing, a theme we've taken," linebacker Sean Lee said yesterday during Penn State's media day. "We have something to prove, no matter what. LSU is a great program, and it's going to be a tough game.
"So we're kind of taking this whole bowl game as a big challenge for us, and seeing it as a huge game."
Informed of this sentiment of having to prove something, Paterno replied, "It's a little too much humble pie."
"I think they did a good job," he said. "If one of them said something to me, I'd say, 'Ah, baloney.' You won 10 games, and 10 games is tough to win these days - I don't care who you play or when you play them."
"Let's play as well as we can [in the bowl], or better than we've played all year," Paterno said. "Never mind whether they're ranked or unranked or what."
The loss to Iowa, on Sept. 26, proved to be the primary reason the Hawkeyes are going to a BCS bowl, the Orange, and the Nittany Lions are not. Players interviewed yesterday said it was disappointing not to get the BCS bid, but were excited to see LSU as their opponent.
Daryll Clark will enter his final game as Penn State's quarterback holding six school records plus a 21-4 record in his two years as a starter. But he took heat after the Iowa and Ohio State games, and this will be a chance to cement his status as one of the Lions' best at the position.
"There's a lot being said about us not being able to win the big game," Clark said. "We've asked for a big game and a really good opponent, and we found it in LSU. For us to win this game, it would really mean a lot for this program, for the fans, and for us."
On the other side of the coin is linebacker Navorro Bowman, who said the game would mean more to the Lions in terms of gaining respect than trying to prove something.
"We can show that we're one of the teams that deserves to be at the top, a team that can play with anybody in the country," Bowman said. "This is a game where it's put in stone - we're a good team and we can play with the best."
All-American defensive tackle Jared Odrick said that beating the Tigers would be important, but that whatever happened shouldn't affect what the Lions had done.
"I think we've accomplished a lot as a team," he said. "I think we've played some viable opponents, no matter if the media or the coaches want to rank them. But that's definitely something we want to go out with, is beating a ranked team."
Paterno echoed Odrick's sentiments.
"People bug me a little bit about the couple of games we lost," he said. "But these kids have been fun to work with. They haven't given me any problems. We didn't do a couple of things well enough to win a couple of games.
"But overall, it's been a fun year. And we'll do everything we can to give them their best shot at winning a big game."
Notes. The Nittany Lions will hold their last practice on campus today before taking time off for final exams. They will report Dec. 20 to Daytona Beach, Fla., and begin practice the next day. They will leave for Orlando, the site of the game, after practice on Dec. 24. . . . Clark was involved in a minor traffic accident Thursday night off campus, but neither he nor the driver of the other car was injured. . . . Paterno said he spoke with Bobby Bowden the day before the 80-year-old Bowden announced his retirement as Florida State's head coach. Of his close friend, he said: "I think it's disappointing to see a colleague that you respect and admire, and appreciate the job that he's done, to be in the middle of all this turmoil as to what he should do or shouldn't do." He also said he didn't know the "ins and outs" of Bowden's situation. "If he wanted to get out, fine. If he didn't want to get out and they forced him out, I wouldn't be happy about that."