Bettors United in Picking Tennessee Over Penn St in Outback Bowl
The legendary Penn State coach has indicated his recovery from a broken leg won't keep him away from his duties leading the Nittany Lions against Tennessee in the Outback Bowl on New Year's Day in Tampa, Fla.
Oddsmakers have made Tennessee -4 point spread favorites
The 80-year-old Paterno has not been on the sideline since two players rolled into him during a 13-3 loss at Wisconsin on Nov. 4. He skipped his team's next game against Temple but returned to the press box the following week for the Nittany Lions' 17-13 win over Michigan State in the regular-season finale on Nov. 18.
That's not the view Paterno prefers.
``It's not like being on the sidelines,'' said Paterno, who turned 80 on Dec. 21. ``It never will be.''
The feisty coach fractured the shinbone and tore two knee ligaments in his left leg. He's undergoing rehab while his leg heals.
``And I'm way ahead of that. I go out there, I have as much flexibility in my left leg as my right leg. I'm getting closer all the time,'' Paterno said.
Paterno's contract expires at the end of the 2008 season. He's 362-121-3 in his 41st season.
The coach has won 21 bowl games in his illustrious career, including a 15-6 mark on New Year's Day.
``We're honored to be playing a team like Penn State and coach Paterno,'' Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said. ``Like so many coaches, I've looked up to him for years. He's always had well-prepared, tough and athletic football teams and I'm sure this one is no different.''
Paterno's team this year features a defense that has shown vast improvement. The Nittany Lions have allowed just two touchdowns in their last five games, winning four.
The defense is anchored by senior linebacker Paul Posluszny and sophomore safety Anthony Scirrotto, who were both first team All-Big Ten selections.
Posluszny enters his final collegiate game as Penn State's career leader in tackles with 364, having won Bednarik awards each of the last two seasons.
Penn State's offense has not been as proficient a unit. The Nittany Lions did not have a single back or receiver named All-Big Ten, and quarterback Anthony Morelli had 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
The Nittany Lions defense will be facing a Tennessee offense that features the SEC's second-best passing attack. Receiver Robert Meachem has turned in possibly the best season in school history with a school-record 1,265 yards and 11 touchdowns as he became the first Tennessee receiver to earn All-American status since Carl Pickens in 1991.
Meachem has been the primary target of quarterback Erik Ainge, who enjoyed a solid season by completing nearly 67 percent of his passes and throwing for 19 touchdowns.
``They're not that very far away from Michigan and Ohio State,'' said Paterno about Tennessee. ``The offense is more like Ohio State in that they do so many things well. Defensively, they remind me of both of those teams ... the variety, the changes of pace they give you.''
Meachem and Ainge are both juniors who could be contemplating a move to the NFL, although Ainge has indicated he will return for his senior season.
Whether Ainge comes back could depend on whether offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe is back at Tennessee. The former Mississippi coach has one year left on his contract and has indicated he will explore opportunities to be a head coach.
Penn State is making back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time since 1998-99. The Nittany Lions beat Florida State 26-23 in last season's Orange Bowl.
``This team has worked hard all season and has been a great group to work with,'' Paterno said. ``I'm happy for the squad that their efforts will be rewarded with an opportunity to go to Tampa.''
The trip to Tampa is a welcome one for Tennessee after it failed to reach the postseason for the first tine under Fulmer after going 5-6 last season. The Vols are 7-6 in bowl games under Fulmer, including a victory over Florida State in the 1999 Fiesta Bowl that capped a 13-0 season.
The teams have split four meetings and have not met since Penn State won 31-13 in the 1994 Citrus Bowl.
by: Anthony White - theSpread.com - Email Us
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