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COLLEGE FOOTBALL / GENE WOJCIECHOWSKI : Penn State Hype? Paterno Isn't Buying Into It--Yet

November 03, 1994|GENE WOJCIECHOWSKI

Before anyone starts ordering bronze for the statues, Penn State Coach Joe Paterno wants the world to know that the Nittany Lions are good, really good, but not invincible.

Yet.

"I don't think we're unstoppable," he said. "That's kind of a ridiculous statement to make."

Is it? Penn State, ranked No. 1 in the coaches' poll and No. 2 in the Associated Press poll, is averaging 50.3 points and 542.7 yards. Its turnover ratio is plus-10. The offense is so balanced that the difference in yards passing vs. yards rushing is only 4.1--273.4 to 269.3.

And, yikes, the personnel the Nittany Lions have. Kerry Collins at quarterback. Ki-Jana Carter at running back. Bobby Engram and Freddie Scott at wide receiver. Kyle Brady, a blocker extraordinaire, at tight end. A solid offensive line.

"Obviously, they have a chance to be the best offensive team we've had," said Paterno, who has been at Penn State 45 seasons, 29 as head coach.

For now, though, Paterno is too busy being paranoid to think about his team's place in Nittany Lion history. Rather than totally enjoying the moment--as he often tells his team to--he frets.

"We're not perfect," he said.

Maybe that's why Paterno, like Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne, isn't spending much time pondering the whims and quirks of poll voters. Then again, it is only Nov. 3.

"I haven't even thought about it, really," Paterno said. "As I've said from Day 1, when the season's over we'll see what's going on and I'll start to think about it. Maybe at that time I'll have some comments. But I don't think there's anything to comment on (now)."

Paterno reserves the right to complain, mostly because of what happened to Penn State in 1968, '69 and '73. The Nittany Lions finished 11-0, 11-0 and 12-0, respectively, and finished no higher than second in the polls. In 1973, they were ranked fifth.

"I think the playoff's the only way to do it," Paterno said. "I think it's a disgrace to college football that Division I-A football is the only sport that not's decided on the field.

"I may obviously be affected by the fact that there are only, I think, six or seven undefeated, untied football teams at the end of the bowl season that have not been selected as national champions--and three of those were Penn State teams."

WISHFUL THINKING

Pacific 10 Conference Commissioner Tom Hansen is a progressive enough guy.

Hansen knew all hell would break loose when Notre Dame bolted the College Football Assn. to make its own deal with NBC.

Hansen accurately predicted the trickle-down effect of the expanded Southeastern, Big Ten, Big East and Big Eight conferences--viz., every league for itself.

And Hansen said the bowl alliance would never last if it didn't make some significant changes in its selection process. (It did.)

So, Tom, do you think the Rose Bowl will join the bowl coalition someday, thus guaranteeing America of the true national championship game that Paterno thinks it deserves?

"No," he said.

For starters, the contracts between the Big Ten, the Pac-10 and ABC, which televises the game, run through 2001. So even if the Rose Bowl wanted to make a change, it couldn't for seven more years.

Second, nobody wants to make a change.

"I think it's impossible to predict after (2001)," Hansen said. "All the parties involved in the agreement today are very pleased with it and the two conferences are not interested in a football playoff. Joining the alliance might promote that."

SEEING RED

Several days after Colorado's 24-7 loss to Nebraska, Buffalo Coach Bill McCartney knows exactly why his team got beat.

McCartney gave boffo marks to Nebraska's athleticism on defense, its superior kicking game and also praised the Cornhusker coaches for running a conservative offensive game plan to perfection.

But . . .

If Nebraska wants to win a national championship, suggested McCartney, quarterback Brook Berringer will have to do more than throw safe passes to his tight ends and running backs. Until then, there will be questions.

"Well, I believe he has to keep answering (those questions)," McCartney said. "Against us, he didn't throw to his wide receivers hardly at all and he's certainly going to have to do that. I'm not questioning his ability to do that, I'm just saying that he's got to do that over a period of time. In our game they didn't ask him to do that."

UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE COTTON

It now appears that if Notre Dame doesn't completely gag and lose its remaining games against Florida State, Air Force and USC, the Irish are Cotton Bowl-bound . . . again.

Under coalition rules, Notre Dame, which has been to Dallas the last two years, could decline the invitation and play elsewhere, presumably the Fiesta Bowl or maybe the Sugar. But that would be bad manners and anyway, the Irish are this close to qualifying for Texas residency.

In previous seasons, Notre Dame was too proud to go anywhere with six or seven victories. They passed on postseason play in 1982 with a 6-4-1 mark, as well as 1979 with a 7-4 record and 1975 with an 8-3 record.

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