Penn State hopes to spoil MSU's title dreams
There's talk of winning a Big Ten title and cementing legacies this weekend in Happy Valley - and it has nothing to do with Penn State.
The Nittany Lions have a chance to spoil No. 11 Michigan State's Rose Bowl dreams Saturday when the Spartans visit Beaver Stadium, even if they don't necessarily like to view themselves as spoilers.
''We're just trying to go out there and play and improve on what we've done each of the last couple weeks,'' quarterback Matt McGloin said. ''But I don't consider us trying to spoil their season. We're just trying to get eight wins, improve our record and get into a Jan. 1 bowl.''
One story line going into the weekend has already been resolved after longtime Penn State coach Joe Paterno declared Tuesday he would return next season. Though he's under contract through 2011, this year's retirement rumor mill was fueled by Paterno's offseason illness and the team's midseason struggles.
Which leaves the focus Saturday on the game and not on whether it will be the last afternoon that the 83-year-old Paterno paces the sideline in his familiar khakis and jet-black sneakers.
''It's important to go out and be able to play a full game against the opponent, make things happen for ourselves and start to develop in different ways - maturity, handle adversity, anticipate certain things that may come up in a football game,'' he said.
Eight senior starters will play their final home game on a team with younger or less-experienced players manning key positions such as quarterback and defensive line. Injuries have decimated depth, and Paterno has been quick to point to those issues as among the reasons for Penn State's uneven play this season while trying not to use them as excuses.
Among the latest injuries, center Doug Klopacz (left ankle) is listed as probable on the injury report though Paterno doubted if he could play. In that case, Stefen Wisniewski would slide over from right guard to center.
Linebacker Michael Mauti, who missed last week's game with a dislocated right shoulder, has returned to practice, though it's unclear yet if he will be available.
The Nittany Lions could sure use him, though, against a Spartans offense scoring about 32 points a game.
''Not really,'' linebacker Chris Colasanti said when asked if he looked at Penn State as playing spoiler. ''I feel that what I take from each game and each week is the ability to improve ... to get better each and every play, and each and every series.''
Michigan State is tied with Ohio State and Wisconsin atop the Big Ten with 6-1 conference records, and all three schools have aspirations for a BCS bid, including the Big Ten's tie-in with the Rose Bowl.
Penn State is tied for fourth in the conference with Iowa at 4-3, and appears headed for a New Year's Day bowl in one of two games in Florida, the Outback Bowl in Tampa, or the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville.
Notes: Wisniewski, Colasanti and defensive end Pete Massaro were named ESPN Academic first-team All Americans by the College Sports Information Directors of America. Wisniewski, an honors student and education major, is the first Penn State football player to receive academic honors three straight seasons.