UNIVERSITY PARK - Joe Paterno has been here before. Many, many times. Big game. Big stage. Big repercussions.
This is all new, however, to most of the players on this year's Penn State team. They're gearing up for a showdown against Ohio State that has huge national championship implications, and Paterno couldn't be happier for the opportunity the players have earned.
''It's a squad that's worked hard, and now, here it is,'' Paterno said. ''Now they got a chance, a big game against a really good football team.
''They've got a chance for something I think all of us want when we start to play whatever sport we're playing, when you get a chance to be right up there. It's exciting and something that you should enjoy.''
Many of PSU's upperclassmen were around for the 2005 Orange Bowl season, and a handful saw significant action in big games against Ohio State and Michigan. The big three receiving trio of Deon Butler, Derrick Williams and Jordan Norwood were key players on that team, as was kicker Kevin Kelly, and others like linebacker Tyrell Sales and safety Anthony Scirrotto played extensively.
As for the rest?
''This will be their first big game, some of the guys, but the biggest thing we can rely on is our senior leadership,'' Butler said.
The main thing to keep in mind, Butler added, is ''just knowing it's still a football game.''
That will be easier said than done.
There's so much hype surrounding the game between the No. 3 Nittany Lions and No. 9 Buckeyes. ESPN's ''College GameDay'' will be at the Horseshoe, it's a primetime contest on national TV, this is Penn State's biggest hurdle left for an undefeated regular season and the Big Ten championship is up for grabs.
Avoiding getting caught up in all that can be hard, Scirrotto said, ''because it's exciting, obviously, for everyone. But you do have to control your emotions and focus more on the game instead of everything around you.''
Paterno noted he doesn't want the players ''to get caught up in any of this baloney about, 'You've got to do this and if you don't do this.'
''Just go out and have fun,'' Paterno added. ''It ought to be a great Saturday for college football for us and for Ohio State.''
Scirrotto expects to play
Scirrotto said Tuesday he's ''feeling great'' after suffering a mild concussion against Michigan and expects to play Saturday. Paterno, however, said no official word has been given about the safety's availability.
''It was a little bump on the head,'' Scirrotto said, ''but that happens. It's a contact sport, it's physical.''
Scirrotto, a three-year starter, is one of the more physical defensive backs in the Big Ten and would be a big loss if he can't go against the Buckeyes.
Pryor quiet this week
Everyone interested in hearing what Terrelle Pryor has to say leading up to the game will be disappointed. Ohio State does not make the freshman available to the media during the week, only after games.
Pryor, walking the tightrope between confident and cocky, did have this to say after the Buckeyes' win at Michigan State on Saturday:
''People don't know what I can do. They say I'm overrated. Wait and see. The time will come, and you will find out.''
Ohio State coach Jim Tressel was asked Tuesday if Pryor is especially psyched up about playing Penn State.
''Terrelle would never admit it if [he] were,'' Tressel said. ''I'm sure he's excited. He loves the big stage and the big challenge. He watches that film. He sees how good they are. He knows he's from there. Columbus is just as close as State College is. I mapped it out for him. But he'll be excited.''
Don't forget Beanie
Terrelle Pryor this. Terrelle Pryor that. The freshman phenom is all the rage in pregame talk this week.
Containing Pryor will be key Saturday, but the Lions need to be just as worried about Chris ''Beanie'' Wells, one of the nation's most talented running backs.
Wells averages 123.8 yards per game and 6.1 yards per carry. He torched Wisconsin for 160 yards and had 140 yards and two touchdowns against the Spartans, carrying the ball 31 times.
Wells, who gained 133 yards on 25 carries last year against Penn State, injured his right foot in the Buckeyes' season opener and missed three games, including the week three contest at USC. He sounded as if he's still having problems with the foot when discussing his health Monday.
''I had hoped to be healthier, but it's something I know I have to deal with,'' Wells said.
The forgotten man
Todd Boeckman shredded Penn State's defense in last season's 37-17 win, completing 19-of-26 passes for 253 yards and three touchdowns. He then led the Buckeyes to the national championship game.
Boeckman got the quick hook, however, this season as Tressel turned to Pryor in week four, after a 35-3 loss to USC.
Pryor likely will play most of the game Saturday, but it wouldn't be surprising to see Boeckman in for a few snaps. Tressel might even have some tricks up his sleeve where he plays Pryor and Boeckman together, with Pryor perhaps in the backfield or lined up in the slot.
''There's no question we've got to be ready for whatever happens,'' Paterno said.
''It's hard to think that as well as they played last week and as well as Terrelle played that they would be thinking about doing something else with the quarterback spot. ... But if he gets a bump or a bruise and something happens and the other kid comes in, he can certainly handle it. He was really good last year, so we got to be ready for the whole works.''