Penn State (8-4) will play No. 17 Tennessee (9-3) in the Outback Bowl Jan. 1 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. The Nittany Lions accepted their bid a week ago but had to wait until yesterday to find out who their opponent would be.
Penn State coach Joe Paterno said the Volunteers will make for a worthy foe and believes both teams are better than their record might indicate.
"We're excited to have the chance to play in another New Year's Day bowl against a quality opponent," Paterno said via teleconference yesterday. "You look at them --they've lost to three of the best teams in the country in close games [Arkansas, 31-14; Florida, 21-20; and LSU, 28-24 in the Southeastern Conference] and we've lost to some of the best teams in the country as well.
"Both teams are similar and may feel like they have something to prove, but this is a game between two good football teams."
Paterno said the Nittany Lions spent the past week of practice correcting errors and trying to improve in some areas he believes they fell short of expectations. He said it has been a productive week, but he's glad they finally have another team in which to prepare.
Paterno also is recovering from leg surgery after he was knocked down on the sideline in the Nittany Lions' home game against Wisconsin. He missed one game and then spent the team's season finale coaching from a room in the press box.
He said he plans on being on the sideline for the bowl game and also said his injury has nothing to deter his plans to continue coaching despite the fact that he is set to turn 80 this month. He said being laid up with an injury has him "bored silly" but he's expecting to be able to get back to his normal routine soon.
"My rehab has been going well, I am way ahead of the game," Paterno said. "This hasn't affected my plans one bit. I said I had planned on coaching for a couple more years and that is still the way I feel. I feel great, I really do."
Paterno has been a proponent of a playoff system and said the Bowl Championship Series title game controversy this year only reinforces his belief that it is time to scrap the BCS all together.
"I think when you start sticking computers in there it isn't good," Paterno said. "It is like asking a computer to compare Shakespeare to Hemmingway -- does it really know how good these teams are? The computer will kick out what is put in.
"I don't like the BCS, I can't understand why we can't get some people to sit down and figure out a better way because this leaves some things to be desired."
As for the Volunteers, who the Nittany Lions beat, 31-13, in the 1994 Citrus Bowl, Paterno said he is impressed most with their overall athleticism on defense.
"They are so quick on defense, really quick," he said. "Phil [Fulmer] and his staff does a great job down there."
Paul Zeise can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1720.