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Out of its league, but in a good way


Penn State safety Mark Rubin, out here to play in the Rose Bowl on Thursday in Pasadena, made the mistake of tuning in to the Champs Sports Bowl on Saturday in Orlando.

Must all these games be televised?

We thought the Big Ten started its own network in part to confine these humiliations to in-house programming.

Watching Florida State put a 42-13 pounding on Wisconsin did little to enhance the notion that Penn State stands any chance against USC.

Call it guilt by National Collegiate Athletic Association.

Asked at Sunday morning's Rose Bowl media briefing whether the Wisconsin defeat stung, just a little bit, Rubin was frank.

"It does," he said. "You would prefer that the Big Ten bowl teams win all their games."

In fact, Ohio State has lost its last two, both in the national title game against schools from the Southeastern Conference.

Iowa has lost its last two, and so has Illinois, and so has Indiana, and so has Michigan State, and so has Wisconsin, and so has Minnesota, which blew the biggest bowl-game lead in history against Texas Tech in the 2006 Insight.

Michigan is one for its last five, winless in its last three Rose Bowls, while Northwestern is trying to end a five-game bowl losing streak against Missouri in the Alamo.

The Big Ten is 8-9 in Bowl Championship Series games since 1998 and hasn't claimed a Rose Bowl win since Wisconsin plucked mediocre Stanford after the 1999 season.

You know who gets dragged down in this holiday Big Ten muck and mire?

The Penn State Nittany Lions, who have actually won nine of their last 11 bowl games and their last three.

Here's a shock: The last time Penn State played in the Rose Bowl, on Jan. 1, 1995, it won to cap a perfect season.

Coach Joe Paterno is 23-10-1 in bowl games.

Can't match Southern speed?

Three years ago, Penn State beat Florida State in the Orange Bowl.

Can't hang with the SEC?

Two years ago, Penn State defeated Tennessee in the Outback.

Sharing the Big Ten's reputation with 10 other teams hasn't been easy, or perhaps fair, to Penn State.

In light of the trashing the conference's reputation has taken in bowl games of late, Penn State might be tempted to put out a news release:

Didn't join the Big Ten until 1993!

"It's just one of those things you have to deal with," Penn State senior linebacker Tyrell Sales said Sunday. "Year after year we hear how slow we are. I don't think it has anything to do with us. It's just what people perceive about the Big Ten. It's big and slow. A bunch of muscle guys running around and bashing each other's heads in.

"We haven't had any problem keeping up with anybody in any of our bowl games and we've played teams from all conferences, the so-called speed conferences. We played against them, we beat them. They weren't faster than us."

That said, how is Penn State, which averaged only 40.2 points per game this year, going to score a single point against USC, the nation's top-ranked defense from the so-so Pacific 10?

How will the Penn State team that scored 45 points against Oregon State and gave up only 14 compete with the USC team that scored 21 points against Oregon State while giving up 27?

Really, if it wasn't for the fact Penn State was a member of the Big Ten, could this not, feasibly, be a good game?

No way in Harrisburg, right?

The Big Ten has been an anchor chain on the Good Ship Paterno.

How else to explain the Nittany Lions' being so lowly regarded?

Of all the one-loss schools, Penn State and Texas came closest to finishing undefeated. Texas lost to Texas Tech on a last-second miracle pass, and Iowa defeated Penn State on a field goal with one clock tick left.

Yet, Texas finished No. 3 in the final BCS standings and Penn State finished No. 8.

Penn State was the lowest-ranked one-loss school in the BCS from the six major conferences.

Utah, an undefeated team from the Mountain West, finished No. 6.

And USC, which lost to the team Penn State defeated, finished No. 5.

People talk about wanting to see USC's defense against Florida or Oklahoma, yet no one wants to let Penn State near either of those schools.

It's all Ohio State's fault, of course. The Buckeyes' performance in the last two national title games against the SEC champion has poisoned Pennsylvania.

It doesn't help that USC has twice mashed Michigan in the Rose Bowl this decade and a year ago routed Illinois.

It doesn't matter that, while all this was happening, Penn State wasn't even in the room.

The Nittany Lions don't complain much because it serves no positive purpose.

"All we could control was losing that one game," Rubin said of the Iowa road loss on Nov. 8. "And we take full responsibility for it. If we would have won that game then we would have been in a different spot. But we lost. Now we have to move on."

There is only one thing Penn State can do to turn a bad reputation on its Iowa corn ears.

There is only one sure-fire way to gain back lost respect.

It involves USC, and the Rose Bowl, a clock and a scoreboard.


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