LOS ANGELES -- JoePa is coming to California for the holidays.
The Trojans will be making their fourth straight appearance and record 34th overall in college football's oldest bowl game, known as the Grandaddy of Them All, an especially appropriate moniker this time around considering legendary Penn State coach Joe Paterno turns 82 in two weeks.
"We're delighted to have an opportunity to go out there to Pasadena and play against a team with the caliber and tradition of Southern Cal," Paterno said Sunday night on a conference call. "All of our fans are excited. My team is excited. We realize we have a very formidable challenge in playing a team of the quality of Southern Cal, a team I think is one of the two or three best teams in the country.
"I hope we can go out there and be competitive with them. I'm a little bit nervous. This is a very, very impressive football team, Southern Cal. They do everything well."
The teams first met in 1923 -- four years before Paterno was born -- in the ninth Rose Bowl, with USC beating Penn State 14-3. The Nittany Lions evened their Rose Bowl record 14 years ago under Paterno, beating Oregon 38-20. The Trojans have a record 23 Rose Bowl wins.
Both teams have 11-1 records, and both realize they were just an upset loss away from playing in the BCS championship game Jan. 8. Pac-10 champion USC dropped a 27-21 decision at Oregon State on Sept. 25, and Big Ten winner Penn State fell 24-23 at Iowa on Nov. 8, losing on Daniel Murray's 31-yard field goal with 1 second to play.
Penn State also played Oregon State, beating the Beavers 45-14 on Sept. 6. The only other common opponent for the Trojans and Nittany Lions this year was No. 10 Ohio State, which lost at USC 35-3 in September and 13-6 to Penn State at home in October.
Big 12 winner Oklahoma and SEC champion Florida, another pair of one-loss teams, will meet for the national title because they played more difficult schedules than the Nittany Lions and Trojans.
"All year, for whatever reason, the loss we had hung on us," Trojans coach Pete Carroll said of the setback at Oregon State. "It didn't seem that the opinion of that loss ever changed."
That's because the Big 12 and SEC were considered much stronger than the Pac-10, and the Big Ten as well.
"The goal of our program year in and year out since we've been here the last eight years has been to get to the Rose Bowl and win that thing," Carroll said. "That's all we've ever shot for. We never set our sights on the BCS process. Being that's out of our control, we know that the Rose Bowl is within our control and that's what we shoot for around here. We're all pumped up about this."
Carroll said it's going to be a great thrill to coach against Paterno.
"He's stood for college football and for football in general as a true icon in every sense of the word," Carroll said. "He's brought a tremendous energy and spirit to football and to the game, love of the game that will last forever. I see how feisty he is, how tough he is. I just marvel at all of the years and the excellence."
Paterno enters the Rose Bowl with a 383-126-3 record including a 23-10-1 bowl mark since becoming the Penn State coach in 1966. Paterno's 383 wins, 34 bowl appearances and 23 bowl wins are all records.
Paterno, hobbled by a bad hip, coached the last seven games from the press box. He had hip replacement surgery Nov. 23 -- a day after the Nittany Lions completed the regular season with a 49-18 victory over Penn State. He hasn't made a public appearance since that time.
"I'm feeling good, I'm walking around pretty good," Paterno said. "I'm not incapacitated. I walk around, I do everything. I think I'm going to be able to be on the sideline. I hope so. I think to miss that experience of being there in the Rose Bowl, looking across the field, seeing those Trojans, Pete, the whole bit, I may regret it, but I'm looking forward to it."
Paterno's contract expires after this season, but he said following the Michigan State game he would return for a 44th season next year.
"I'm planning on coming back, yeah," Paterno said. "I never planned otherwise. Everyone's making a big deal that I don't have a contract signed. I've never even asked to do that."
No official agreement has been announced.
"I want to meet coach Paterno," USC free safety Taylor Mays said. "I'm going to look for him to shake his hand. It's cool to play Penn State and Joe Paterno. With all of the history of both schools, it's a classic matchup."
Carroll doesn't have the same kind of long-term success as Paterno, but his accomplishments at USC the past seven years compare favorably with what any coach or school has been able to do during a similar time period. The Trojans have won or shared the Pac-10 championship, won at least 11 games, and played in a BCS bowl in every season since 2002, going 81-9 during that time. They've won five of their last six bowl games, the exception being a 41-38 loss to Texas three years ago in the BCS championship game.
Defense is the strength of both teams. USC led the country in total defense (206.0 yards) and scoring defense (7.75 points), while Penn State was fifth in total defense (263.9 yards) and fourth in scoring defense (12.4 points).
The offenses were pretty good as well, with the Nittany Lions averaging 40.2 points and the Trojans close behind at 37.5 points. Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark passed for 2,319 yards and 17 touchdowns this season while USC's Mark Sanchez threw for 2,794 yards and 30 TDs.