Penn State players are on the ride(s) of their lives leading up to Rose Bowl

Chris Godwin
Penn State’s Chris Godwin speaks to reporters during a Rose Bowl media event at Disney’s California Adventure Park on Tuesday.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Chris Godwin glanced at the race cars as they zoomed by with screaming passengers.

The Penn State receiver, like many of his teammates, had never been to Disney’s California Adventure, or the state of California, and couldn’t wait to experience the rides, including Radiator Springs Racers. 

But by the time Godwin and the fifth-ranked Nittany Lions play ninth-ranked USC in the Rose Bowl on Monday, they will have experienced many of the Southland’s top attractions and etched their name in Rose Bowl history.

“I’m definitely excited about it,” Godwin said Tuesday during a news conference at the theme park. “It’s a lot better than State College [Pa.] right now.”


Back home, temperatures were in the 30s.

Penn State players sat in front of the Cars Land ride in 75-degree weather for a short time, but they made a stealth exit for the rides, as their USC opponents continued to talk to reporters. 

The theme park was the first stop in a week packed with activities before they face the Trojans. 

Penn State Coach James Franklin said that he wanted the Nittany Lions, Big Ten Conference champions, to enjoy all the activities, but cautioned that they continued to prepare for a game.


“We talk to our players all the time about being present,” Franklin said. “So when we are at practice, be at practice, when we are at meetings, be at meetings, when we are at Disney, be at Disney.”

Said offensive lineman Brian Gaia: “We’re just taking it all one day at a time. Enjoying all the events and taking like a little vacation, until the game gets closer and then we’ll really focus in on the game. … It’s the Granddaddy of them all, as they say.”

Penn State arrived in Los Angeles on Monday evening, giving the players and coaches a week to adjust to the three-hour time change. 

“The more time you’re here adjusting to the change in time zones, the sleep patterns, all those type of things help you,” Franklin said. 

The Nittany Lions are scheduled to practice Wednesday at the StubHub Center before attending the Lawry’s Beef Bowl in Beverly Hills.

Farmer comes home

Koa Farmer is the only California native listed on Penn State’s roster.

The third-year sophomore linebacker played at Sherman Oaks Notre Dame High and grew up 20 minutes from the Rose Bowl in Lake View Terrace.


“It’s a blessing,” Farmer said of playing in the historic venue where he watched USC play UCLA. “I can’t believe we are actually playing in it.”

Farmer committed to California before switching to Penn State. USC and UCLA also recruited him, he said.

Why did he choose Penn State?

“When I came on a visit it was just mind-boggling,” he said. “I just had to be a part of it.”

Farmer has made 4.5 tackles for losses, including three sacks.

Trojans scheme differently

USC’s style will be a change from what Penn State encountered in the Big Ten.

Franklin compared the Trojans’ talent to that of Ohio State and Michigan — which will play in the Fiesta and Orange bowls, respectively — but said that USC’s schemes were different, especially on offense.


“It’s going to be a challenge for our guys.” Franklin said. 

USC has amassed more than 400 yards in each of its last nine games. Quarterback Sam Darnold, the Pac-12 Conference freshman offensive player of the year, has passed for 26 touchdowns, with eight interceptions.

“They’re probably going to be the most explosive, athletic team we’ve ever played,” Farmer said. 

Quick hits

Franklin said “some” Penn State players would not participate in the game for a “violation of team rules,” but he would not provide further information. . . . Players’ academic eligibility status for the Rose Bowl has not been finalized, Franklin said. . . . Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead has been linked in several reports to the coaching vacancy at Connecticut. “We want Joe and this staff to stay together as long as we possibly can, but there is going to come a point where our assistants have the chances to become head coaches and we want that for them,” Franklin said.

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