Still Fighting For Respect

Nittany Lion quarterback Michael Robinson and Co. feel they have something to prove in their Orange Bowl matchup with Florida State, even though the Seminoles lost three of their last four games and enter this tilt as heavy underdogs.

Peel back the layers of Penn State's football psyche and you'll find at its core a simmering persecution complex. That's what happens when your coach has five undefeated seasons and only two national championships.

On its face, the Nittany Lions' Orange Bowl matchup with Florida State would seem unlikely to fuel any further resentment. After all, it's the Seminoles whose BCS legitimacy has been questioned in the media, not that of the Lions.

But if you can't work up a grudge at Penn State, you're not trying hard enough. When Michael Robinson turns on his TV, he sees insults everywhere.

"We still have some things to prove," the senior quarterback said. "I still don't think everyone thinks we're a good football team."

That may sound like an exaggeration given that the Nittany Lions are ranked third in the Associated Press and USA Today polls. But the two teams ranked ahead of Penn State have been hogging the spotlight the past few weeks. And in the rush to hype the Rose Bowl, the other Bowl Championship Series matchups have come to seem like under card bouts. That doesn't sit well with Robinson and his teammates. They see it as an insult not only to the current Penn State team but to past teams as well.

"You look at TV and all you hear about is USC and Texas. You hear about how they're the greatest teams alive and they have the greatest offenses ever," Robinson said. "We look at things like that and they totally exclude teams like the '94 [Penn State] team. We still don't think that we get the respect of being a good football team. It's one of those things where, OK, if that's what people want to do, we've got to keep going out there and trying to prove people wrong."

It's understandable that the Nittany Lions would embrace the role of the embattled underdog. The no-respect rallying cry served them well throughout the regular season. Even after defeating Michigan State in November to clinch the program's first BCS berth, players were talking about the Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon in August in which Robinson, Alan Zemaitis and Paul Posluszny felt ignored and disrespected. "Nobody even wanted to ask us questions," Robinson said following Penn State's 31-22 victory over the Spartans, "so this is definitely a sense of redemption."

It's going to be difficult to recreate that underdog aura in Miami. Florida State lost its last three regular-season games by a combined score of 89-36 and dropped out of the polls before rebounding to defeat Virginia Tech, 27-22, in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.

Penn State players have been careful to avoid giving offense when asked their reaction to the announcement that they would be playing the Seminoles in the Orange Bowl. To a man, they say Florida State is a worthy opponent despite its 8-4 record and No. 22 ranking in both polls.

And the Seminoles may well turn out to be a worthy opponent. They manhandled Virginia Tech through the first three quarters of the ACC title game, sacking Marcus Vick six times in building a 17-3 lead. Those numbers should go a long way toward establishing Florida State as a legitimate threat to Penn State's hopes of finishing second or third in the final polls.

Whether the Nittany Lions actually need any convincing is another matter.

"For a long time our mentality has been us against the world," defensive end Matthew Rice said. "We don't take the time out to look at stats and rankings to see if we're going to be the underdog or not. Our mentality is to show what Penn State football is every time we touch the field."

By all accounts, Nittany Lion players haven't been resting on their regular-season accomplishments. Robinson said teammates such as Deon Butler have been calling to let him know they've been watching tape on their own time.

That's just what the quarterback wants to hear.

"The season isn't over," Robinson said. "We told people that we were going to use this season to prove to people we were a good football team. I don't think that's going to happen until the season is over and hopefully we've won this next game."

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