Coaching matchup dominates Orange Bowl hype

Updated: December 4, 2005, 11:59 PM ET
Associated Press

MIAMI -- When their teams last met, Bobby Bowden asked Joe Paterno how much longer he planned to stay in coaching.

Sixteen years later, the legends may have that conversation again.

Florida State (8-4) and Penn State (10-1) will meet in the FedEx Orange Bowl at Miami on Jan. 3, a game that'll mark a showdown between major college football's two winningest coaches. It's the sixth Bowl Championship Series appearance in eight years for the Seminoles, the first-ever for Paterno's third-ranked Nittany Lions.

And neither septuagenarian -- Paterno turns 79 later this month, Bowden is 76 -- wishes to play a starring role in the pregame hype.

"I think we just ought to forget about the Bobby Bowden-Joe Paterno relationship," Paterno said. "I think we ought to be looking at two good football teams that are going to go down there and have a chance to knock each other's brains out."

Penn State shared the Big 10 championship with Ohio State, but earned the league's automatic BCS spot by beating the Buckeyes earlier this season. The Seminoles are the lowest-ranked team in the BCS, finishing 22nd in the final standings and getting into the mix only by upsetting Virginia Tech on Saturday for the Atlantic Coast Conference title.

Still, game officials said they're thrilled to have a Bowden-Paterno matchup.

"We are extremely proud to have two of the best here. ... Two marquee coaches in the game, one and two respectively," Orange Bowl CEO Keith Tribble said.

Bowden has 359 wins, six more than Paterno -- and both steered their teams to surprising comeback stories in 2005.

Bowden's Florida State team snapped a three-game losing streak on Saturday when it beat then No. 5-Virginia Tech for the ACC crown -- the Seminoles' 12th in 14 seasons. Florida State's reward turned out to be a matchup with another highly touted opponent, a Penn State team that nearly went unbeaten.

"I feel very fortunate for us," said Bowden, whose team fell from the national rankings after losing three straight. "I feel very happy for our boys and our assistant coaches that we were able to do it. Naturally I feel very lucky about it and sometimes I can't hardly believe it."

Amid whispers that their longtime coach is too old to compete, Paterno's Nittany Lions had lost 17 of their last 24 games entering this season and haven't won a bowl game since the 1999 season. But only a last-second touchdown by Michigan kept Penn State from finishing this regular season with a perfect record.

Bowden says he couldn't be happier that his longtime friend has the Nittany Lions back to national prominence, and can relate to the criticism that Paterno has endured in recent seasons.

"We've caught a lot of heck this year. I've caught a lot of heck," Bowden said. "I can look at Joe's program and say, 'Look there. Just be patient. Look what'll happen.' ... It just substantiates my feeling that nobody's going to win forever. You can have a bad year. You can have a bad series of years. You can have a bad cycle, but that's not the end because you can come back."

Bowden is 1-6 all-time against Paterno; he lost all six meetings as West Virginia's coach in the early 1970s, and guided Florida State to a 24-17 victory over Penn State in the 1990 Blockbuster Bowl -- also at Miami.

It's probably no surprise that both coaches have sparkling records in bowl games. Bowden is 19-8-1 all-time in bowls, a winning percentage of .696 that is the best in Division I-A history. Paterno is 20-10-1 in bowl games, and is the only coach to ever win the Rose, Sugar, Fiesta, Orange and Cotton bowls.

"Florida State's one heck of a tradition, one heck of a coaching staff," Paterno said. "Bobby Bowden is a great coach. They're going to bring a lot of people. We're going to be playing down in Florida, which is almost like an away game and a home game for Florida State. You know, we've got our hands full."

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press