Penn State's Paterno dismisses bowl talk, for now


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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State coach Joe Paterno was more than a little cranky yesterday when he met with reporters for his final regular-season news conference.

He brushed off any talk about his team landing a possible BCS berth -- likely the Orange Bowl -- should the Nittany Lions (9-2, 5-2 Big Ten) close out the season with a win Saturday at Michigan State (6-5, 4-3).

"You know, you guys know more than I do," Paterno said. "The only thing I know is we're playing Michigan State this week. Don't make a darn bit of difference. You guys speculate all you want.

"If we don't beat Michigan State ... none of it's important. So I don't waste time with it."

Even with a victory against the Spartans, there is no guarantee Penn State will earn a BCS bid. The Lions are No. 14 in the BCS standings, which is the cutoff for receiving an at-large bid. Their main competition likely will come from Iowa (9-2, 5-2), which beat Penn State, 21-10, earlier this season and is No. 13 in the BCS.

BCS expert Jerry Palm said that although Penn State and Iowa fans travel well, TV ratings likely would give the Lions a slight edge.

"We're excited about it -- excited we know we have a lot to play for," quarterback Daryll Clark said.

Paterno lashed out at those who have bashed the Lions' soft non-conference schedule as well as the Big Ten.

"There are a lot of kids in the league that are all-around good football players ... ," he said. "I've been a little bit perturbed because I think the media has jumped on the Southeastern Conference bandwagon, our schedule, this schedule."

Penn State's special teams units experienced yet another horrendous outing Saturday against Indiana, muffing four kicks and losing two on punt and kickoff returns.

Paterno said the loss of reserve running back Brandon Beachum (knee injury) and the absence of starting wide receiver Chaz Powell (sprained right shoulder) will be felt on the kick coverage units at Michigan State.

Paterno said starting cornerback A.J. Wallace "may play." Wallace is listed as having a shoulder injury even though he was tested for a concussion after the Indiana game.

Paterno also addressed the playing status of three true freshmen -- backup quarterback Kevin Newsome and wide receivers Curtis Drake and Devon Smith.

Newsome, who has not attempted a pass since the Oct. 10 game against Eastern Illinois, had one carry for minus-3 yards in the first quarter against Indiana.

"I'm always trying to get Kevin a little bit [of playing time]," Paterno said. "He can run with the football, [a] change of pace. You know, you hate to be out of style -- the wildcat style."

Smith, used as a kick returner earlier this season, has not played lately "because he cut classes," Paterno said. Smith, the fastest player on the team, did not dress for the game against Indiana but put on his uniform after Powell was injured in the first quarter.

Smith has not caught a pass or returned a kickoff in seven games and has not had a carry in a month.

"He's got a long way to go to grow up," Paterno said.

Drake, a former high school quarterback, took advantage of Powell's absence. He made two big plays against the Hoosiers -- a 26-yard run off a reverse and a 28-yard reception -- to help set up two touchdowns.

Paterno said the reason Drake didn't play more this season is "because Powell was better."

NOTE -- Mount Pleasant native Ed Czekaj, former Penn State director of athletics from 1969-80, died Monday in State College. He was 87. See obituary, Page B-3.


Ron Musselman can be reached at rmusselman@post-gazette.com .


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