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Orange appealing to Penn St.

December 17, 2005|By GENARO C. ARMAS

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -

Finished with finals and freed by coach Joe Paterno to talk to reporters again, Penn State's Alan Zemaitis could finally focus on football.

He looked sharp in a gray suit, but the senior cornerback's thoughts were on getting back into uniform and playing his final game for Penn State, against Florida State on Jan. 3 in the Orange Bowl.

"That's the kind of game that you will never get tired of. Never get tried of," Zemaitis said at a Beaver Stadium news conference. "Just to understand that game will be broadcast at 8 p.m., under the lights, Miami, Florida. There ain't nothing like that."

It was the first time that Zemaitis and his teammates spoke about the upcoming game since the BCS matchup was announced on Dec. 4. Last week, Paterno canceled two interview sessions at the last minute, contending that he didn't want his squad getting caught up in early hoopla, and that they had to concentrate on finals, which ended Friday.

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The Nittany Lions will get several days off to see their families before leaving for Florida on Tuesday, where they will be sequestered in hotels during the holidays as they prepare for the big game.

Not that most of the team minds - Penn State hasn't been in the postseason since the Capitol One Bowl on Jan. 1, 2003, and they haven't been to a BCS-like game since the 1997 Fiesta Bowl.

"I'd rather be down there practicing in warmer weather," guard Tyler Reed said on a conference call. Light flurries fell Friday afternoon in State College, a day after a storm left several inches of snow and ice on the ground.

The Orange Bowl will cap Paterno's surprising comeback campaign after the program had stumbled to losing records in four of the previous five seasons. Penn State finished the regular season ranked third in The Associated Press Top 25 as well as in the final BCS rankings.

Much of the attention so far has been on the coaching matchup between Paterno, who turns 79 this month, and Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, who is 76. Bowden leads Paterno in victories among major college coaches, 359-353.

The 22nd-ranked Seminoles also weren't expected to reach a BCS bowl when the season began, but that changed after they upset Virginia Tech in the ACC championship game. Penn State's conference rival, No. 4 Ohio State, which fell to the Nittany Lions in October, will play No. 5 Notre Dame at the Fiesta Bowl.

Several players said they were anticipating an Orange Bowl showdown with the Hokies, and some fans groused that Penn State wasn't finishing the season versus a higher-ranked opponent.

Zemaitis said he wasn't disappointed.

"We thought we were going to play V-Tech or Notre Dame. Obviously they are ranked a lot higher, and to see Ohio State go against Notre Dame. I don't know if we felt that kind of way. But we're just proud to be in the Orange Bowl," he said.

Zemaitis was named to the AP's All-America second team last week. He leads the team with five interception and has two fumble recoveries for touchdowns.

"And don't let that Number 22 fool you," he added about the Seminoles' ranking. "I know they are going to come out there like they are the No. 1 team."

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