- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Joe Paterno has coached college football for, well, forever.

Only recently, though, did he question his toughness after a player blindsided him in practice, sending him to the hospital for two days. The hit came just after Paterno chastised his players for “babying themselves” over minor aches and pains.

“The good Lord has a way of doing things,” Paterno said, “because he said to me after shooting my mouth off, “Bounce back, kid. Let’s see how tough you are.’”

Plenty tough. So tough that he plans to be coaching Saturday when Penn State opens its season against Indiana State despite still recovering from his injuries. And in a college football landscape that looks quite different from the one Paterno saw in 1966, when he became head coach, that’s comforting no matter where your loyalties lie.

Hard not to root for Paterno, the only octogenarian on the sidelines this season in major college football. This is a guy who was already eligible for Social Security at the time his current players were just being born.

There’s plenty of other things to root for as the college football season begins with the not-so-traditional Thursday night opener of UNLV against Wisconsin.

Here’s my own list:

_ Julian Paksi. You’ve never heard of him, but he anchors the defensive line for tiny Albion College in Michigan, a Division III school that has been playing football since 1888. Paksi was diagnosed earlier this year with a rare form of cancer and he will need a liver transplant if he hopes to beat it. The senior is putting off the transplant until after the season _ risking that the cancer might spread _ because he can’t bear the thought of missing his final year of football.

Football has always been my life,” Paksi told me last month. “I don’t know what my life would be like without it.”

_ Andrew Luck. He could have gotten millions for simply signing on the dotted line in the NFL, but Luck will be back for a final year at Stanford. An architecture major, he should be a poster child for the NCAA when it wants to show what a true-student athlete is. This is a guy who not only studies in college, but likes it.

“It’s just the way we do things around here,” Luck said.

_ Notre Dame. The Irish are desperate to return to the elite of college football, and this could be the year. Notre Dame won its last four games last year and second-year coach Brian Kelly seems to have righted a program that millions of Americans who haven’t been within 1,000 miles of South Bend, Ind., love to identify with.

_ Mute button. ESPN’s “College GameDay”. Enough said.

_ Opening week patsies. They get a payday, sure, but the cupcakes most of the top schools schedule for early tuneups are scheduled for a reason. Yes, Appalachian State pulled off a shocker in 2007 against Michigan, but most athletic directors take few chances in scouting for an opening opponent to beat. Kent State against Alabama? Louisiana-Monroe at Florida State? Youngstown State at Michigan State? Come on.

_ Demise of the BCS. This is a no-brainer, though Notre Dame has a better chance of winning the national championship this year than we have in getting rid of the hated BCS. The NCAA should be ashamed it abdicated its responsibilities for running college football to big conferences who are only concerned with preserving the status quo and lining the pockets of their member schools.

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