Top 25 countdown

Times Staff Writer

The Times’ Chris Dufresne unveils his preseason college football top 25, one day (and team) at a time:

No. 19 Penn State

Joe Must Go . . . to Pasadena . . . one last time.

And then blow everyone a goodbye kiss.


How’s that for an exit plan?

When Penn State won the Big Ten Conference title in 1994, in its second year in the conference, it figured to be the first of many Rose Bowl appearances.

The Nittany Lions, though, have not been back since.

The return date could happen this season if the Rose Bowl loses Ohio State again to the Bowl Championship Series title game and the Granddaddy nabs Penn State as a replacement the way it grabbed Illinois last year.


Or, Penn State could win the Big Ten outright and not finish No. 1 or No. 2.

Joe Paterno, beginning his 43rd season as Nittany Lions’ coach, will have turned 82 by Jan. 1, 2009.

He could serve as grand marshal of the parade in the morning and then coach the game in the afternoon. He could triumphantly walk/jog/limp off the field in the afterglow of victory, the Arroyo Seco in his backdrop.

You could set it to music.


This is the critical-mass year for Penn State and Paterno. His contract expires at season’s end. A recent ESPN investigation excoriated the program for off-field troubles. Paterno was interviewed for the story but said he had not seen it.

Paterno’s best defense will be answering last year’s 9-4 season with something just as good or better.

The Nittany Lions need to find a replacement for quarterback Anthony Morelli -- Daryll Clark or Pat Devlin -- but this team should rattle some cages.

The defense suffered a huge blow in the spring when linebacker Sean Lee was lost for the season because of a knee injury, but the unit is not short of talent or tacklers.


A big season could help Paterno negotiate his retirement terms. How much longer can he go? Last year’s Alamo Bowl was Paterno’s 500th game as Penn State coach.

The schedule is set for success. Four of Penn State’s first five games are at home, and the road game is at Syracuse. Oregon State visits Happy Valley on Sept. 6 and the Big Ten tests are at Wisconsin on Oct. 11 and Ohio State on Oct. 25.


The countdown so far: No. 25, Notre Dame; 24. California; 23. Fresno State; 22. Florida State; 21. Rutgers; 20. Illinois; 19. Penn State.