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December 7, 2008There wasn't really any suspense in the room, as the Trojan football team watched TV Sunday night, awaiting confirmation of their fate.
USC thought its was heading for its fourth-straight Rose Bowl appearance, and after Sunday night's selection show, the Trojans were still headed to the Rose Bowl.
When the announcement came, there weren't any screaming fans. There weren't any chest-bumping players or fight-song-playing bands.
There were some smiles, and there was some talk.
But USC head coach Pete Carroll said the muted reaction to the news isn't a sign that he or his players aren't fired up for Jan. 1.
"We heard all those questions last year," Carroll said. "And, we had one of the great explosions of energy and fun.
"This is a big deal to us. We love playing in the bowl game regardless of where we play, but we get to go to the Rose Bowl."
Quarterback Mark Sanchez slapped some teammates and coaches on the back after the announcement was made on TV.
"It's a classic match up," he said. "It's Penn State, Joe Paterno, the Nittany Lions, New Year's Day - it's going to be something special."
Paterno said he thinks the game will captivate the public, and he's excited to face USC.
"Well, obviously I'm very excited. I think any time you've gone as long as I've gone and have an opportunity to do what we're going to have in a few weeks, I'm excited," Paterno said. "I know my team's excited. I just hope we can do a good job and make it a great game. I think we're going to play one of the two or three best football teams in the country."
Paterno, recovering from hip surgery, said he got a head start on scouting the Trojans, who finished No. 5 in the BCS standings.
"I've been watching them the last two weeks, to be frank with you. I have some TV tapes that we had taken. I've looked at them, watched them, try to get a feel for their personnel, try to get a feel for the things that we may have to - we know we have to do," he said. " Always in the back of my mind, a chance to play Southern Cal might be there, so I've looked at tapes of Southern Cal."
Paterno said he hopes to coach the game from the Penn State sideline.
"I think I'm going to be able to be on the sideline. I hope so," Paterno said. "I think to miss that experience of being there in the Rose Bowl, looking across the field, seeing those Trojans, Pete, the whole bit. I may regret it, but I'm looking forward to it."
And the Trojans are looking forward to it as well, but it was hard not to wonder what could've been with so many teams clustered at the top of the BCS standings with one loss.
"Everyone wants to settle it on the field," Sanchez said. "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."