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Penn State Football: Will Paterno Retire? (and Other Key Questions for Sparty Week)

by on November 22, 2010 12:47 AM

Eight important questions answered as the Nittany Lions seek victory No. 8 when they host Michigan State at noon on Saturday in Beaver Stadium:

1. Will this be JoePa’s last game in Beaver Stadium?

If you are asking if the 83-year-old coach (84 on Dec. 21) intends to retire, the answer is no. That’s what I think.

His health seems to be the best it has in several years; he has looked better as the season has gone on. And over the past six or seven years that was not often the case.

Over the past few weeks he has talked about the youth of the team, as if he is going to be around to help it mature. After getting his 400th win against Northwestern, Paterno smelled the flowers for 10.35 seconds, then pronounced it was time to get ready for Ohio State. For Joe, the bloom is not off of the coaching rose.

Also: Read this quotation from his press conference the Tuesday prior to the Northwestern game. Does it sound like a guy who -- at that time -- had only five games left in his 61-year coaching career?

“But every once in awhile, you wonder whether somebody couldn't do a better job for the people that I'm responsible for. But you know, I've not ever gotten to the point where I have felt, ‘Hey, I'm going to get out of this thing.’ But it's going to come.”

Just not this year.

If I have learned anything about the legendary coach since 1979, when I first covered Penn State football, it is this: Never underestimate Joe Paterno.

So while serious health concerns could manifest themselves in the off-season, for right now I say Paterno will be back in 2011 for (at least) the final season of his three-year deal.

2. Which bowl game will Penn State go to?

Jerry Palm, owner and operator of, knows his stuff about postseason shuffling. He’s usually right on about Penn State, so we dropped him a line on Sunday so we didn’t have search the Internet for hours and pretend we’re experts.

Palm’s the expert, all right, and he knows his hoops, too, at

I asked Jerry where Penn State will go bowling.

“Maybe the Outback, but more likely the Gator,” he replied. “If the Outback thinks JoePa might retire, they may try to grab him for his last game.”

The Gator Bowl grabbed Bobby Bowden last year, pitting his Florida State Seminoles against his former team, West Virginia, Bowden’s final game. (FSU won.) The 2011 Gator Bowl kicks off at 1:30 p.m., Jan. 1, at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Fla.

Penn State is 1-2-1 in the Gator Bowl -- beating Georgia Tech (1961), losing to Florida (1962) and Notre Dame (1976), and tying Florida State (1967).

The Outback Bowl (formerly the Hall of Fame Bowl) kicks off at 1 p.m., Jan. 1, at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. The Nittany Lions are 3-0 in the Outback Bowl – defeating Auburn (1996), Kentucky (1999) and Tennessee (2007).

Both stadiums are the home fields of teams in the National Football League.

3. What’s the weather going to be like on Saturday?

A bit colder than usual, says The State College-based weather experts call for a high of 37 degrees and a low of 27, with both clouds and sun.

But significant winds – up to 24 miles per high – will make AccuWeather’s “RealFeel” rating hit 20 degrees as a high and 10 degrees as a low. Normally, temps that day are a high of 43 and a low of 30.

4. It’s Senior Day on Saturday. Which 11 Penn State players are expected to be honored?

WR Brett Brackett, LB Chris Colasanti, OT Lou Eliades, LB Bani Gbadyu, C Doug Klopacz, CB Shelton McCullough, DT Ollie Ogbu, TB Evan Royster, K Collin Wagner, G/C Stefen Wisniewski and WR Graham Zug.

5. When will Royster break Curt Warner’s “real” record, hopefully silencing what is still a fairly vocal group of critics?

After his 16-carry, 48-yard performance against Indiana, Royster has 831 yards on 164 carries (5.1-yard ave) in 2010. That gives him 3,749 yards on 652 carries (5.7 ave.), which is recognized as the school’s career rushing record.

That’s because Curt Warner’s 3,398 rushing yards (on 649 carries), the former record, does not include Warner’s four bowl appearances, which resulted in 474 yards on 76 carries.

So, all told, Warner ran for 3,872 yards on 725 carries (a 5.34-yard average) over 43 games in his Penn State career.

(Royster has amassed his yards over 48 games – but he barely played in four of those as a freshman, carrying the ball four times over four games.)

All that leaves Royster 123 yards short of Warner’s “true” career rushing total, but Royster’s gotten there on 73 fewer carries. With two games – Michigan State and a bowl game – remaining you have to figure Royster will pass Warner. Again.

BTW: In three games against Michigan State, Royster has run for 201 yards on 27 carries, a 7.4-yard average. In 2009, he ran 13 times for 114 yards.

6. Just how often does Sparty come back?

Michigan State trailed in six of the seven Big Ten Conference it has played in 2010. In one of those six, against Iowa, it never stopped trailing – losing 37-6. And in the seventh game, a 31-8 victory over Minnesota, the Spartans never trailed.

The leaves Sparty with five conference games, and a sixth overtime contest against Notre Dame, in which he came back to win after being behind. Here are the specifics:

Notre Dame, Sept. 18 (W, 34-31) – trailed 7-0 (1st quarter), 28-21 (4Q), 31-28 (OT)
Wisconsin, Oct. 2 (W, 34-24) – trailed 10-3 (2Q)
Michigan, Oct. 9 (W, 34-17) – trailed 3-0 (1Q), 10-7 (2Q); scored 24 unanswered points
Illinois, Oct. 16 (W, 26-6) – trailed 3-0 (1Q), 6-3 (2Q)
Northwestern, Oct. 23 (W, 35-27) – trailed 17-0 (2Q)
Purdue, Nov. 20 (W, 35-31) – trailed 28-13 (3Q), 31-20 (4Q)

7. Who is going to win the Big Ten?

Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin are all 10-1 overall and 6-1 in the Big Ten. Ohio State plays Michigan on Saturday, while Wisconsin faces Northwestern.

In head-to-head play, Michigan State beat Wisconsin and Wisconsin beat Ohio State. Michigan State and Ohio State did not play.

Right now, in the most recent BCS standings, Wisconsin is ranked No. 7, Ohio State is No. 8 and Michigan State is No. 10.

Given that backdrop, we return to our man Jerry Palm to explain the nuances:

“BCS standings will decide any tie that involves both Ohio State and Michigan State,” Palm said. “If Wisconsin is in there, too, the Badgers very likely win. If not, Ohio State should win. Head to head would decide any other tie.”

8. How many students will show up for the noon kick?

The same number that make it to an 8 a.m. Econ class on a snowy Monday in January – about half.

Related Coverage

Penn State Football: Nittany Lions' Special Day Away (Nov. 20, 2010)

Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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