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And there was much rejoicing

Penn State trying to get excited about Outback bid

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Posted: Tuesday December 29, 1998 04:13 PM

  Paterno and the Lions still feel they have something to prove AP

TAMPA, Florida (AP) -- Kentucky responded to its Outback Bowl invitation with hoots of joy. After four years of waiting since the team last went to a bowl game in 1993, some 23,000 bowl-hungry Wildcats fans snapped up tickets within days.

At Penn State, the bowl bid met a level of excitement just above, oh ... a yawn.

So just what is the difference between 8-4 and 9-3 for No. 22 Penn State going into Friday's meeting with Kentucky?

Momentum for 1999, and a dash of pride.

"We're excited to play on New Year's Day," fullback Mike Cerimele insists. "I don't know if we were running around screaming [when we found out we were going to the Outback Bowl)] because we'd set our goals high. We came up a little short -- but we're going to go down to Tampa and play one hell of a game."

Center Eric Cole said the Penn State players realize they should feel as lucky as Kentucky to be in a New Year's Day bowl this year.

"We still have something to prove: That we can win a big ball game," he said. "Certainly this is one."

Kentucky is 7-4 and unranked, and like the Nittany Lions, it lost most of its big games this season, against Florida, Arkansas, Georgia and Tennessee. But the Wildcats are averaging 37 points a game and they have a quarterback, Tim Couch, who could be the top pick in the 1999 NFL Draft.

If that's not motivation enough, how about this? With only a handful of the players on Penn State's two-deep chart leaving after this game, they need a win -- or they face the prospect of another long spring.

"We want to go out there and win this game to keep the momentum going," cornerback Bhawoh Jue said.

"Hopefully, there will be some carryover to next year," coach Joe Paterno said earlier in the month. "So many things get into it, like people staying healthy. I'm reluctant to project what happens in this game into what is going to happen next year. You are hopeful. As long as these kids continue to work as hard as they work and want to get better, I think there is a bright future.

New Year's Day bowls are old hat for Penn State, while Kentucky is going to its first January 1 bowl since the 1952 Cotton Bowl. The Penn State faithful hasn't matched the Wildcat fans' enthusiasm off the field. Can the Lions do it on the field?

"They're going to be pretty fired up," offensive guard Ryan Fagan said. "But I think if we come out and do what we should be doing, that'll take the crowd out of it."

 
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