OK, now it’s really official.
Four days after LSU and Penn State were invited to the 2010 Capital One Bowl, the two head coaches and athletic directors involved met in Orlando, Fla., on Thursday to sign a bowl contract and hold court with a handful of media members.
LSU’s Les Miles and Penn State’s Joe Paterno took turns talking about the reward for their teams and the challenge ahead in one of the more attractive non-BCS bowl games of the season.
The 13th-ranked Tigers (9-3) and 11th-ranked Nittany Lions (10-2) square off at noon Jan. 1 in the Florida Citrus Bowl. ABC will televise the game.
“We look forward to this game, and it’s going to be a great setting,” Miles said. “It’s historically a great bowl game and played New Year’s Day. It’s exactly how we would want to end our season. The matchup with the Big Ten and Joe Paterno and a quality Nittany Lion team will be everything that we want.”
Especially if LSU caps this season like it has Miles’ previous four.
The Tigers are 4-0 in bowl games under Miles, with lopsided victories against Miami, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Georgia Tech.
Those wins, as well as what LSU has done this season, caught the attention of Paterno, who has more coaching victories (393) than any coach in Football Bowl Sub-Division history.
“Getting an opportunity to play against a team as good as LSU is tremendous,” Paterno said.
Paterno turns 83 in 10 days and will coach in the Capital One Bowl (previously the Tangerine Bowl) for the fifth time, the first time since 2003 when Auburn edged the Lions 13-9.
As he did the day this season’s matchup was announced, the Penn State coach said the trip was a fitting reward for a team that for the second year in a row was a relevant factor in the national championship hunt.
The Lions’ only losses this season came against Big Ten foes headed for BCS games: Iowa 21-10 in State College, Pa., and Ohio State 24-7 on the road.
“I think we’re a pretty good football team,” Paterno said. “We played hard all year and stuck together after we lost to a couple of good football teams. … I hope we can play our best game of the year because we will need to against LSU.”
Now Paterno and his team close out the season on New Year’s Day in Florida — the 24th time in the coach’s 44 seasons Penn State will finish in a January Bowl.
“I have 17 grandkids and the oldest one is 14,” Paterno said. “For the last two weeks, they’ve all been asking me, ‘Are we going to Orlando? We want to go to Orlando!’ ”
Miles also talked about the reward of a postseason bowl, but noted that there’s business to tend to as well.
“We look at it as both,” he said. “The opportunity to have competitively played yourself into an advantage position where you can play for a bowl championship — we recognize that as the reason why we’re here. We also recognize that it’s through achievement that you are allowed to play in the Capital One Bowl, and so there is going to be a reward.
“There will be the opportunity to see Orlando and the sights, and that will be the reward. The greatest reward will be the opportunity to play well and to honor a very quality opponent with our best effort.”
In his nine years as a head coach, Miles has never coached against Paterno. He was on the Michigan staff for a pair of meetings in the early 1990s after the Lions joined the Big Ten — the Wolverines won at Penn State 21-13 in 1993 and the Lions exacted revenge with a 31-24 triumph in Ann Arbor, Mich., in 1994 in a showdown of top-five teams. Penn State finished 12-0 that season, one of five undefeated campaigns under Paterno.
So Thursday’s face-to-face meeting was a first for Miles as a head coach. But growing up in Ohio, Miles knew who Paterno was. He said he visited the campus in State College, Pa., as a young assistant and even then didn’t understand the magnitude of Paterno’s impact.
“I visited Penn State probably so early in my career I don’t know who I was representing at the time,” Miles said. “(Paterno) has always been, and Penn State has always been, a program that has done it right. He has competed at the very highest level and his leadership has been exemplary. Anybody in football follows Joe Paterno and understands the tradition behind that Penn State uniform.”