ORLANDO, Fla. -- Penn State All-American defensive tackle Jared Odrick finds himself in a pretty exclusive neighborhood.
Joe Paterno recently compared Odrick to some of the best defensive linemen he has coached in his 44-year Hall of Fame career.
Paterno rattled off the names of Matt Millen and Mike Reid, two first-team All-Americans, and he also mentioned Steve Smear, a second-team All-American who played alongside Reid on the Nittany Lions' undefeated teams in 1968 and '69.
"[Odrick's] played really well, he's a great leader on the field and he reminds me a lot of the good ones we've had," Paterno said. "Matt Millen, who played defensive tackle for us, is the same kind of guy."
Odrick, a 6-foot-5, 296-pound senior, has earned postseason recognition on seven All-American teams. A three-year starter and two-time first-team All-Big Ten pick, he was the conference's defensive player of the year and the defensive lineman of the year.
He was just the fourth Nittany Lions' player to win Big Ten defensive player of the year honors, joining former All-American ends Michael Haynes (2002) and Courtney Brown (1999), and linebacker LaVar Arrington (1998).
"It's definitely an honor," Odrick said, "but it's not like I was sitting there waiting, looking at my watch, saying 'When are they going to call for the player of the year award?'
"It definitely was a surprise, but it wasn't something that I got blown away by. I am happy and it was great to see that I got some respect from the coaches around the league."
Most NFL draft analysts have Odrick pegged as going in the first or second round.
He leads Penn State with six sacks and has 10 tackles for losses. He also blocked a field goal and ranks fifth on the team with 41 tackles entering the Lions' game against LSU on New Year's Day.
"Odrick is an outstanding football player, and I think that he deserves everything he's got," Paterno said. "He's been a leader. He practices hard. He even played hurt. He practiced hurt. He's a big-time player."
Penn State's defense leads the Big Ten in scoring (11.8 points per game), tackles for losses (8.25) and sacks (2.9). The Lions held eight opponents to 14 points or fewer and seven opponents to less than 100 yards rushing.
That might not bode well for the Tigers, who will be missing their top three running backs for the game. Charles Scott, who rushed for 2,317 yards and 32 touchdowns in his career, is out with a broken collarbone. Backups Keiland Williams (broken ankle) and Richard Murphy (knee) also are out.
Look for Odrick to try to clog up the middle. All season long, he has used his quickness to overpower opponents and his upper body strength to fight through double-team blocks.
"Jared's a big-time player, I've been saying that all year," defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said. "I think he's the best 3-technique guy in the country."
Outside linebacker Sean Lee believes Odrick was the Lions' best defensive lineman in 2007 before he broke his right ankle in late October at Indiana.
Center Stefen Wisniewski goes head to head with Odrick every day in practice, and said it is a difficult task.
"He is by far the best defensive lineman I have ever played against," Wisniewski said. "I really do believe he is the best defensive player in the Big Ten. I was glad to see he got the recognition he deserved.
"He is really physical and plays really low. He is explosive and is very good with his hands at getting off blocks. He's very tough to handle."
Odrick saw playing time as a true freshman in 2006 when he was part of defensive line coach Larry Johnson's rotation as a backup end. Odrick said Johnson deserves a lot of credit for his success.
"It started when I was a junior in high school," Odrick said. "Through recruiting and through coming here, I just believed in him and what he brought to the table in terms of helping me get to the next level as a man and as a football player.
"It has been a great experience here for me. ... Throughout the process, I was coached by some of the best coaches in the country. I had some great teammates along the way to help me get where I am."
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