I don't think we have to prove anything, he said. Our kids just have to go out there and play and have some fun and walk off the field thinking we gave it our best shot. Whether we're good enough or not, who knows? That's why you play.
The fact that Penn State has yet to defeat a ranked opponent this season after falling at home to Iowa and Ohio State has turned out to be one of the main storylines in the hyping of the Capital One Bowl, which is hosting the Nittany Lions for the first time since 2003.
Paterno admitted he was disappointed with the team's two regular-season losses, but he bristled at the implication that Penn State needs the validation that only a victory over LSU can provide as it turns the page on an up-and-down decade.
We've won 50 games in the last five years, Paterno said. We've been a good football team. Whether we've been a great football team or not, that's somebody else's opinion. ... We're a good football team playing against a very, very good football team, and hopefully we can play well.
Paterno appeared Thursday at a joint news conference with Les Miles. The two coaches spent only a few moments together on the stage, posing briefly for photos as Paterno left to make way for his LSU counterpart.
But Miles and his 13th-ranked team have been much on Paterno's mind lately. The longtime Penn State coach is particularly concerned with Jordan Jefferson, the sophomore quarterback who has been hailed as a young Daryll Clark. In 11 starts this season, Jefferson has completed 62.1 percent of his passes for 1,964 yards, with 16 touchdowns and only six interceptions. But he's also been criticized for holding onto the ball too long -- LSU has surrendered 35 sacks this season -- in the hope of making a play downfield.
At times he looks like a great quarterback, and at times I think it would be fair to say he's made some mistakes, Paterno said. But he's young. I think he's going to be a great one. I just hope he's a year away.
Miles is hoping he can find a few weaknesses his team can exploit on Friday. He usually does. The fifth-year LSU coach is 4-0 in bowl games and has his team on the verge of a milestone: A victory over Penn State would be its 100th win of the decade. The Tigers are tied with Florida for the most victories in the 2000s by a Southeastern Conference school.
But despite LSU's historical success, which includes a 38-24 rout of Ohio State in the 2008 BCS Championship Game, Miles was confronted Thursday with the same questions Paterno faced. Does his team need to defeat a strong Big Ten team to regain its swagger after finishing 3-5 in the SEC last year and 8-5 overall? Does it still need to convince college football watchers that it is all the way, or at least most of the way, back?
Miles isn't so sure.
I always hesitate to put too much on a single game, he said. But the opportunity to finish the season with 10 victories, to play a great team in Penn State, to win a bowl championship and to win our 100th game of the decade is a very special thing. That is certainly a part of the feel of this game.