I have watched Joe Paterno up close in numerous settings for the past three-and-a-half months, paying attention to every physical detail, listening to each word and how it was spoken and trying to read between the lines about his future.
Tuesday press conferences. Friday night informal media gatherings at the team hotel. Saturday postgame interviews. After seeing all that and talking with everyone whose opinions I trust, I'm still no more than 60-40 that JoePa will be back next season.
Anyone who claims to have a significantly better estimate on the odds is probably just grasping at straws.
Paterno may or may not even know the answer for sure, so that keeps the rest of us merely guessing, which has been the case for decades.
As Penn State prepares to play its final regular-season game, and as talk undoubtedly heats up this week about whether this will be JoePa's final game at Beaver Stadium, this is my theory: If he's healthy enough, Paterno will return for a 46th season as the Nittany Lions' head coach.
It's a big if for a man who's about to turn 84 in a month.
So let's talk about his health.
Virtually every member of the media who saw Paterno at Big Ten media days Aug. 2 in Chicago wrote him off and talked about how this had to be his last season. He was old, frail, weak and all that jazz.
I wrote that very same day, after a one-on-one chance encounter with the coach, that he looked much better than he had earlier in the afternoon when swarmed by the media throng. I went out on a limb and used words like "vibrant" and "relaxed" to describe him following a three-month intestinal illness that led to weight loss and slurred speech.
With each passing week since then, Paterno looked better and better. He gained weight back. Started walking better. Started talking better. Started to resemble the same man he's been the past handful of years.
The old, frail guy from Chicago is still old, but almost everyone who has been around him would agree he began to look and sound less frail over time.
There was one exception.
On the Tuesday following his 400th victory, Paterno seemed totally out of it. He couldn't hear most of the questions and went off into tangents that had nothing to do with anything he had been asked.
It was bizarre.
Sure, there was the excuse that he had just finished what must have been a long weekend of celebration and congratulations, so he clearly was tired. But Paterno came across as old and confused, and suddenly that became something we would have to monitor.
So I started monitoring it. Closely.
Three days later, at the team hotel in Columbus, Paterno gathered around a group of media members and carried on for more than an hour.
He was awesome.
He told great stories and jokes, laughed like I'd never heard him laugh and clearly was enjoying himself.
He wasn't enjoying what happened the next day when Ohio State smacked his team, 38-14, and that's the reason why so many people would like to see a coaching change. They're tired of watching Penn State struggle in its biggest games and believe the next coach can pump energy into the stale program.
But if Paterno believes he still can do that -- and all indications are he does -- then again, the health factor remains the biggest issue.
Paterno showed up to the postgame press conference at Ohio State and once again spoke clearly, although he did get confused about the game situation when asked about a fourth-down call late in the first half. Some people made a big deal out of it, and perhaps it was, but much younger coaches get off track from time to time trying to recall individual plays immediately after a game.
Last Tuesday, a week after his sad and confused press conference, JoePa was sharp and on his 'A' game when he met the media to preview Indiana.
Paterno, who has had hearing issues for years and often needs questions repeated, still had some trouble getting the gist of a few things. But he remained on point with his answers and seemed like a different man than he had been just a week earlier.
Friday night, before the Hoosier game, Paterno gathered to chat with about a half-dozen reporters at the team hotel. Again, he was sharp and on point, telling great stories about things he and only he remembers from decades ago.
Following the 41-24 win over Indiana, JoePa showed no signs of being anything other than what he's been for years. He answered questions clearly and even managed a wisecrack about President Obama when asked to discuss which players had gotten into trouble before the game.
Paterno undoubtedly will be asked questions this week about retirement, and he undoubtedly will deflect them, as usual. He'll probably get mad when it's asked a second or third time, and much will be written from people all over the state and country about whether this is it or not.
JoePa has no idea what his health will be like next year or if he may fall victim to another illness, so he can't fully answer any question about his future. It's often been said he's afraid of dying shortly after he retires like Bear Bryant did, and for all we know, that fear was heightened by what happened to him this summer.
It's hard for me to believe the university will force him out with one year left on his contract -- if he wants to come back and is healthy enough to coach.
Of course, healthy enough to Paterno -- who no longer recruits off campus and has cut way back on his coaching duties -- may be something totally different than healthy enough for disgruntled fans who want to see a change.
Cory Giger is the host of "Sports Central" from 4 to 6 p.m. daily on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM. He can be reached at 949-7031 or email@example.com.