- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 20, 2008

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. | Joe Paterno has enough to worry about this weekend with a trip to the Rose Bowl at stake for No. 7 Penn State.

He’s certainly not focusing yet on what might come after Saturday, whether that would be getting his sore hip fixed or his long-term overall future.

Paterno’s contract expires after the season, and the coach and school president Graham Spanier have put off talks about the future until after the bowl game, wherever and whenever that may be. They also have said Paterno doesn’t need a contract in writing to keep a job he’s had for a record 43 years.

“Come to the game and enjoy it. It’s a big football game,” Paterno said when asked if he had a message for fans who think Saturday’s game against No. 17 Michigan State might be his last at Beaver Stadium.

“If we win, a lot of good things can happen to us,” said Paterno, who turns 82 next month. “But I don’t think they should be coming because they think it’s my last game.”

There are many story lines at play on Saturday:

First and foremost, a trip to the Rose Bowl is at stake. Penn State (10-1, 6-1 Big Ten) can clinch at least a share of the conference title and secure the Big Ten’s automatic BCS bid by beating the Spartans.

It’s also the first time in the 48-year history of Beaver Stadium that a championship will be on the line at Penn State’s home field.

A sellout crowd of at least 109,000 is expected to give a raucous greeting to receiver Derrick Williams and 16 fellow seniors playing their home finale.

It’s a class that put the Nittany Lions back on the winning track after a decade that started with four losing seasons in five years.

“We take pride in it, but I think it’s more the guys that came before us,” Williams said in deflecting credit for Penn State’s re-emergence on such recent stars as quarterback Michael Robinson and linebacker Paul Posluszny, who are both playing in the NFL. “We proved a lot of people wrong.”

Penn State is one win away from joining Michigan, Notre Dame, Texas, Nebraska and Ohio State as programs with 800 victories. Michigan is the NCAA leader with 872.

Paterno has guided Penn State to 382 wins, first among major college coaches. His resume includes two national titles, seven undefeated seasons and membership in the College Football Hall of Fame.

So it’s little wonder why people want to know what the future holds for the iconic coach beyond this season.

Paterno brushed aside yet another question about his long-term plans Tuesday.

“Let’s get off that,” he said. “I’m not trying to be cute, or dishonest. I really haven’t even thought about it.”

Yet other times he answers more subtle questions about the future with forward-looking responses. Two weeks ago he said he was eager to get back to recruiting after getting his injury fixed.

Paterno appears headed for hip replacement surgery in the days after the Michigan State game, and on Tuesday he said he’s unsure whether he’ll be well enough to return to the sideline for a bowl game. Paterno has overseen the team from the press box since an Oct. 4 win at Purdue, and monitors practices from a golf cart.

“I’m certainly going to be involved one way or another, if I have to walk around with a cane for a month,” Paterno said.

Asked later if he anticipated staying in the press box beyond a bowl game, Paterno answered without hesitation: “Oh, no. I want to get back on the field. I expect to be back on the field.”

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