UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- For the first time in more than six decades, Penn State will play host to a football game today without Joe Paterno as a member of the coaching staff.
The Hall of Fame coach was fired late Wednesday night after a child sexual abuse scandal involving former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky engulfed the campus. The most recent Nittany Lions home game without Paterno on the staff was Oct. 29, 1949, a 33-21 victory against Temple before 18,758 fans at old Beaver Field. Joe Bedenk was the coach.
"This game is going to be different than any game in the history of Penn State football," Lou Prato, author of the Penn State Football Encyclopedia and school's unofficial historian, said Friday. "There has never been a moral crisis like this before."
It is hard to predict how big the turnout might be today for the final regular-season home game against Nebraska. Penn State had sold out one of its previous six home games with Paterno in charge. Crowd control remains a concern after the rioting earlier this week when Paterno was fired.
• Matchup: No. 12 Penn State (8-1, 5-0 Big Ten) vs. No. 19 Nebraska (7-2, 3-2), noon today, Beaver Stadium, University Park, Pa. Cornhuskers favored by 3.
• TV, radio, Internet: ESPN, KQV-AM (1410), Penn State Sports Network, www.GoPSUsports.com.
• Penn State: TB Silas Redd's 703 rushing yards were most by a Big Ten player in October since Michigan's Mike Hart had 903 in 2004. ... Is 19-2 on senior day since '90. ... Defense ranks 12th in nation with 22 turnovers. ... Is 6-0 in games decided by 10 points or fewer.
• Nebraska: QB Taylor Martinez has thrown for 1,545 yards, with 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He also ranks second in rushing with 712 and nine touchdowns. ... Averages 34.7 points per game and 412.2 yards. ... RB Rex Burkhead leads team in rushing with 951 yards, 13 touchdowns.
• Hidden stat: Penn State and Nebraska are among eight Division I teams nationally that have won 800 games all time.
Friday, wide receivers coach/recruiting coordinator Mike McQueary was placed on administrative leave.
According to a grand jury presentment, McQueary witnessed Sandusky sexually assaulting a child in a locker room shower in 2002.
"I guarantee you there will be some people who were planning to go who won't be there because they don't want any part of it," Prato said.
No. 12 Penn State (8-1, 5-0 Big Ten) plans to honor 20 seniors before the game against No. 19 Nebraska (7-2, 3-2). The Lions have not played since Oct. 29, a 10-7 comeback win against Illinois in which Paterno became the winningest coach in Division I history with 409 victories, passing Grambling's Eddie Robinson.
Ironically, Paterno was presented with a plaque after that game by university president Graham Spanier and athletic director Tim Curley in a special ceremony. Paterno and Spanier have since been terminated because of the Sandusky scandal, and Curley is on administrative leave while fighting a perjury charge.
"We'll be amped up to win this game for Joe and send the seniors out on a high note," said Paul Jones, a quarterback from Sto-Rox High School who is academically ineligible this season.
A large number of former Penn State football lettermen will attend the game in support of Paterno and interim coach Tom Bradley, the former defensive coordinator.
There also figure to be a number of protesters around the stadium.
"Everybody has been doubting us all year, and now we have this other adversity on top of it," said backup offensive lineman Adam Gress (West Mifflin). "It's been a tough week, but we've just got to block out the distractions and stay focused."
Bradley, a Johnstown native, is in his 33rd season as a member of the Penn State staff. He replaced Sandusky after the 1999 season and was defensive coordinator for 12 years until his shocking promotion Wednesday after Paterno was ousted unanimously by the board of trustees.
"The whole week has been something of a whirlwind," Bradley said Thursday at his first news conference. "It's been an unprecedented week. ... One thing I have tried to do and I have made a point of doing is letting the captains do most of the talking. They are the guys the team selected to lead them. Together, we will get this team ready to play."
Penn State is the only unbeaten team in the Leaders Division and can clinch no worse than a tie for the title with a victory.
The Lions hold a 7-6 series advantage against the Cornhuskers, who are visiting Beaver Stadium for the first time since 2002. This isn't the first time the two teams have been involved in a game with controversy.
In 1994, four years before the BCS system was instituted, they both finished the regular season undefeated. But Penn State finished a distant second to Nebraska in both national polls, handing former coach and current athletic director Tom Osborne his first national championship.
In '82, Penn State rallied for a stirring, 27-24 victory against Nebraska in one of the most exciting, yet disputed, regular-season games in Beaver Stadium history.
Todd Blackledge's 15-yard pass to tight end Mike McCloskey near the left sideline in the closing seconds was ruled a completion -- McCloskey later admitted he was out of bounds -- and the ball was placed at the 2.
Blackledge then rifled a low throw to tight end Kirk Bowman, who cradled the ball just above the grass for his second touchdown reception of the game with four seconds left. That dramatic win helped serve as a springboard for the Lions' first national championship under Paterno.
This time, Osborne is telling Nebraska fans to leave their red gear at home. He said Penn State officials have assured him safeguards are in place for fans.
"I'm 99 percent sure this is going to be pretty much like a normal game, and they're not going to be treated any different there than they would be any place else," Osborne said. "That's just my instinct.
"I guess you can't promise. There's nothing sure."
Ron Musselman: email@example.com and Twitter @rmusselmanppg.