Marquee coaches Paterno, Saban set to square off

With his championship-winning resume, Alabama coach Nick Saban hardly needs a pat on the back from a fellow coach to feel appreciated.

Joe Paterno might be the only guy who could get away with it.

Two of college football's most successful and recognizable coaches meet Saturday when Saban and the third-ranked Crimson Tide visit Paterno's 23rd-ranked Nittany Lions in Happy Valley.

At times earlier this week, each man gushed about his counterpart as if offering a personal reference on a job application — especially Saban.

A year ago in Alabama's 24-3 win over Penn State at Tuscaloosa, former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden was a guest on the sideline and met with Saban and Paterno. It was a treat for the Crimson Tide's leader.

"The stations of your career sort of make you realize and respect what they do even more and how they were able to do it and the success that they have," Saban said. "I don't know how many games I've won as a head coach, but I know it's not a third as many as what Joe Paterno has."

Not quite, but close.

Saban has 130 victories over his 16-year career, while Paterno has 402 over a record 46 seasons.

Of course, Paterno has almost everyone else beat when it comes to victories: he's major college football's winningest coach.

Where Saban does match up with Paterno is in national championships. Each man has two: Saban with LSU (2003) and Alabama (2009); Paterno winning at Penn State in 1982 and 1986.

A native of Fairmont, W. Va., Saban talks with reverence about watching Penn State play growing up and seeing Paterno trot out of the tunnel to sideline.

That may not happen this weekend again, as Paterno is still recovering from injuries to his right shoulder and pelvis suffered when a received accidentally bowled him over in practice Aug. 7. Paterno said this week he was optimistic about a sideline return, though he was still in pain. He coached the 41-7 win in the season opener last week over Indiana State from the press box.

Either way, the coaches are bound to meet up somewhere in Beaver Stadium.

"Nick's a fine football coach, a good guy, good family guy and the whole bit," Paterno said. "So it's nice to hear him say that about me. So when I see him, I'll pat him on the back."

Things may be less cordial during the game between their players.

Alabama won its opener last week with ease as well, 48-7 over Kent State. This week, then, represents the first true early season test for each team.

Running back Trent Richardson scored three touchdowns last week, running for 37 yards on 13 carries. After burning the Nittany Lions for 144 last year as a replacement for the injured Mark Ingram, Richardson will be a focus of the Penn State defense.

The Nittany Lions also hope to rattle Alabama's new quarterback tandem of AJ McCarron and Phillip Sims. Saban voiced concern last week about what he called inconsistent play from his offensive line.

Other than that though, the speedy, athletic Tide don't appear to have any glaring weaknesses.

What Paterno's crew hopes works in their favor are their faithful fans.

This is a "White House" game, which means the school has encouraged its fans to turn Beaver Stadium into a sea of Penn State white. Students have been camping out at "Paternoville," the makeshift tent city outside the stadium, for days, even braving torrential downpours earlier this week from the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee.

"Playing any team, but especially Alabama and with this crowd ... it's something you don't really experience a lot in life," Nittany Lions defensive end Jack Crawford said.

That crowd could also provide a lift to Penn State's own quarterback tandem of Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin. As a true freshman, Bolden started last year's game at Alabama and the offense moved the ball relatively well before being thwarted by three turnovers inside the 30.

Receiver Derek Moye said the team is much better prepared to handle the pressure.

"With them coming up here, we know what the atmosphere is going to be like," Moye said. "All the pressure is on them. ... We're kind of flying under the radar."

And if the game gets out of hand in either direction, there's always the Xs and Os matchup between Saban and Paterno to remember.


Note: A sellout crowd of more than 108,000 had been expected, though state transportation officials have warned fans that travel to Happy Valley and central Pennsylvania may be difficult from points east and south due to historic flooding from Lee. Hundreds of main and secondary roads across eastern and south-central Pennsylvania were shut down as of late Friday afternoon, the transportation department said.


AP Sports Writer John Zenor in Montgomery, Ala., contributed to this report.