STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) -For all of his years coaching, even Joe Paterno hasn't been involved in a game like this.
No. 7 Penn State will play a veritable Big Ten championship game on Saturday when No. 17 Michigan State visits Happy Valley.
Win and the Nittany Lions clinch a spot at the Rose Bowl.
If the Spartans (9-2, 6-1) win, they'll still need Ohio State to be upset by Michigan to secure the trip to Pasadena.
``This is probably the biggest game I've been in and all of us have played in since we've been here,'' Penn State senior safety Anthony Scirrotto said. ``These are the kind of games you come here to play.''
The Big Ten doesn't play a true title game, and Penn State (10-1, 6-1) only joined the conference in 1993 after years as an independent.
So Saturday's game will be the first time a championship will be on the line in the 48-year history of Beaver Stadium.
Still not enough drama?
Saturday could also be the 81-year-old Paterno's last game at home.
His contract expires after this, his record 43rd season as head coach. Talks about his future won't resume until some time after the still-undetermined bowl game.
Hobbled by a sore hip that may require surgery next week, the feisty Paterno stays vague when talking about the future. He's never talked about quitting, and he's dropped hints of late that he's looking toward 2009.
Paterno will work from the press box for Michigan State - as he's done most of this season - and he's not sure how soon he can get back to the sideline after surgery
But enough about JoePa.
``I am not interested in what's going to happen until after the Michigan State game's over, all right?'' Paterno pleaded this week.
At least Paterno will stay warm during the game. The forecast for Saturday afternoon calls for temperatures in the upper 20s with snow showers possible and light winds.
Perfect weather for a running game. Scirrotto calls it ``ground and pound'' season, ideal for physical Big Ten football.
Ideal for a guy like Michigan State tailback Javon Ringer.
game, Ringer has burned opponents for 20 rushing touchdowns. The senior hopes his class has laid the foundation for future success for the Spartans and second-year coach Mark Dantonio.
``The coaches were pretty smart when they said sooner or later we would be playing for a championship, because now it is coming true,'' Ringer said. ``This is not going to be a one-year wonder because there is so much talent behind our senior class, and Lord willing we will continue to be successful in the future.''
First there's Penn State to take care of, though, no small task considering the Nittany Lions feature the Big Ten's best rush defense (101.5 yards per game).
Defensive end Josh Gaines calls the 5-foot-9, 202-pound Ringer ``explosive and stronger than an ox'' running behind a big offensive line. Gaines was limited last week against Indiana because of a sore ankle, but that won't keep the senior captain from the field this weekend.
``Oh yeah, I'm playing,'' Gaines said. ``The Big 10 championship? I'm playing for that.''
Most preseason prognosticators didn't figure Michigan State-Penn State as a contest that could decide the conference representative in the Rose Bowl. The Big Ten schedule usually pits the two schools together in the last game of the regular season to decide the ``Land Grant Trophy.''
higher this year.
Besides that, a sellout crowd of at least 109,000 is expected to rock Beaver Stadium to celebrate the final home game of Scirrotto, Gaines, receiver Derrick Williams and 14 other Penn State seniors.
``The atmosphere will be electric, I'm sure. It always is over there. It will be something I'm sure our players will remember for the rest of their lives,'' Dantonio said.
A win for Penn State would allow the school to join Michigan, Notre Dame, Texas, Nebraska and Ohio State as programs with at least 800 wins. Paterno has guided the Nittany Lions to 382 victories, first among major college coaches.
``Penn State is always bringing in talent, and personally I don't think Joe Paterno is going anywhere,'' Ringer said. ``People love to play for him ... so this will not be a one-year wonder for them either.''
He just hopes it's Michigan State, not Penn State, that ends up at the Rose Bowl.

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