LOS ANGELES -- USC coach Pete Carroll didn't have any trouble finding the life of the annual Rose Bowl party Tuesday night.
It was easily Joe Paterno.
"We spent the evening with the Penn State staff, and coach Paterno was really fired up," Carroll said the final pre-game press conference Wednesday morning at the Downtown Marriott. "He's ready -- I can tell you that."
Carroll marveled at Paterno's spirit, calling it "so strong," and adding, "you can tell the love he has for what he's doing. He's the life of the party, telling stories. He might be the living image of Benjamin Button [the movie character who ages backwards]."
Paterno hadn't heard of Button, played by Brad Pitt, and said he's only seen two movies in the last 40 years -- "ET and Titanic, and I almost walked out of Titanic, but I felt like I was in a bath."
Both coaches, of course, are hoping to write their own scripts today when the No. 5 Trojans (11-1) and No. 6 Lions (11-1) look to put exclamation points on great years.
So now that all the talking's done, who wins?
I scoured reasons to pick the Nittany Lions, but they didn't outweigh those for USC.
Longtime followers of Penn State well know the theory that if you give JoePa an extra week to prepare, the advantage swings to the Lions.
But that doesn't seem to be the case as much anymore. In their last 10 games with a week or more to prepare, including four bowl games, the Lions are 6-4.
Save bringing in Daryll Clark in last year's Alamo Bowl game, which brought a surprise element and was effective, Penn State has not looked overly impressive offensively in their recent bowl games.
They could/should have lost to Florida State before the third overtime in the 2006 Orange Bowl, they got a timely fumble to beat Tennessee in the '07 Outback, and they were fortunate to escape a late Texas A&M rush last year.
"Texas A&M has the game won and they fumble ... great coaching on my part," JoePa said, kidding. "Sometimes you have to be a little lucky."
And the Lions are due to have Lady Luck go against them.
Couple that with the potential distraction factor -- of Pat Devlin's transfer and of a couple PSU players mulling NFL departures -- and of JoePa's continued presence in the press box, and Penn State is facing a significant challenge beyond playing its best bowl opponent since Miami in the '87 Fiesta Bowl.
On the flip side, Southern Cal, save a September blowout of Ohio State that Paterno said "shocked" him, hasn't really accomplished a whole lot more against its schedule than Penn State did against its -- particularly considering the Nittany Lions' domination of Oregon State, which upset USC.
The one factor in the Nittany Lions' favor is almost no one expects them to win. They're nearly a double-digit underdog.
"Not the end of the world," Paterno said. "We're underdogs, but we're not here to keep it close."
His players seconded that.
"Never," defensive end Aaron Maybin said. "Nobody has ever looked at ourselves as an underdog. We come into every game with the same mentality and the same attitude. Anybody else can look at us as an underdog, just as long as we're confident and our coaching staff is confident. We have pretty much an us-against-the-world mentality."
They'll need it in trying to deck an opponent that would mark one of the best non-national championship victories in Penn State history.
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.