LOS ANGELES - Josh Gaines expressed his feelings honestly, even though it might get him smacked by Joe Paterno.
Numerous Penn State players have been asked the past few weeks about having one loss and whether they feel they should be playing in the national championship game. After all, Florida and Oklahoma each have one loss, so why do they deserve to be playing for the title any more than the Nittany Lions?
Gaines knows exactly why.
''To be honest, our schedule was not as tough as some other people,'' the senior defensive end and co-captain said. ''That's just my personal opinion. Joe might smack me for saying that, but that's just being honest.''
The honesty didn't stop there.
''The Big Ten, we had a few losses to a few schools, so it doesn't really help us,'' Gaines said. ''A few teams losing to a couple MAC schools and stuff like that. And we have those two weeks off [after the regular season], so it's kind of hard for the voters who want to vote for us.''
Gaines' statements summarize all the reasons why Penn State didn't get as much respect from voters, analysts and, most importantly, the BCS.
Seven teams finished the regular season with one loss. The other six - Oklahoma, Florida, Texas, Alabama, USC and Texas Tech - are all ranked higher in the BCS than Penn State, which is No. 8.
''We get the least amount of respect of the one-loss teams, and everyone says that doesn't give us a chance,'' receiver Deon Butler said. ''We have a big chance to get some respect against USC.''
The Trojans, Penn State's opponent in the Rose Bowl, think they deserved a shot in the BCS title game despite their one loss to Oregon State.
''Everyone wants to settle it on the field,'' USC quarterback Mark Sanchez told the L.A. media earlier this month. ''Everybody has one loss and wants to prove who is the best team. We'd love to play a couple of games to figure this thing out, but that's not the system we have.''
If it were the system, it wouldn't surprise many people to see USC knock off everybody in the playoffs and win the title.
''I think Southern Cal has every right to think they could play anybody and do as well,'' Paterno said.
Receiver Derrick Williams thinks the Lions deserve to be in the championship game as much as anyone else - ''Personal feelings, yes,'' he said - and added a playoff would have been fun.
''Everybody has a loss that's above us; we have a loss,'' Williams said. ''It would have been great for all of us to play each other and just see who came out with a win.''
Short of a playoff system, however, a team's entire body of work will determine if it will get a chance to play for the title.
That gets us back to Gaines and his brutal honesty about Penn State.
''I feel like we can play against any team in the country,'' he said. ''But it doesn't help the way the BCS is set up [and] the way our schedule is set up.''
He means a schedule that included Coastal Carolina, Syracuse and Temple as three of the four non-conference games. Yes, the Oregon State win gained impressiveness after the Beavers stunned USC, but the Lions were hurt by a soft Big Ten schedule and relatively unimpressive - on a national scale anyway - 13-6 win at Ohio State.
So when Iowa's Daniel Murray booted a 31-yard field goal with 1 second left for a 24-23 upset in week 10, PSU's title hopes crumbled.
An early loss to a great team can be overcome, such as Oklahoma surging after a setback against Texas. Even an early loss to a not-so-great team is OK if the squad rebounds in style, like Florida bouncing back after falling to Mississippi. It also helps to be in a widely respected conference like the Big 12 or SEC.
Penn State had none of those fortunes, which is why the Lions are in Southern California instead of South Florida playing for the national championship.
''It's tough,'' safety Anthony Scirrotto said, ''but if we didn't lose that one game, we'd probably be in [the championship game] right now.''
Cory Giger is at 949-7031 and firstname.lastname@example.org.