Lee, Lions Ready for LSU

Sean Lee

Penn State's senior captain and his teammates are happy to have drawn a strong bowl foe after being left out of the BCS mix.

Professionally, Sean Lee is in a good place heading into Penn State's season finale Jan. 1 in the Capital One Bowl. He took his last college exam on Thursday, he's been playing the best football of his career lately and he's looking forward to the NFL combine in February.

Physically? That's a different story. Lee's lease is up and he has already moved out of his off-campus apartment. Consequently, he is not in a particularly good place as his college days draw to a close.

“I'm sleeping on Mickey Shuler's futon,” he said, “and living out of my car.”

Lee, like the tight end Shuler and the rest of Penn State's graduating seniors, is just about done with college life. There's only one more piece of football business to attend to, but it's a big one: a matchup with No. 13 LSU. It's the 11th-ranked Lions' last chance to defeat a ranked opponent this year after falling to Iowa and Ohio State during the regular season.

“We haven't beaten anyone in the Top 25 this year, so that's kind of a big thing,” Lee said. “That's the theme we've taken. We have something to prove no matter what.”

The Nittany Lions weren't deemed worthy of a Bowl Championship Series invitation, as Iowa got the Orange Bowl bid Penn State was coveting, largely on the strength of its 21-10 victory over the Lions in September. Some players expressed mild disappointment that they didn't make the BCS, but they also acknowledged the strength of Iowa's case and said that they didn't have any trouble getting focused on their matchup with LSU.

“We kind of took the theme that we didn't care where we were playing or what bowl it was as long as we got a good opponent,” Lee said. “That was going to be our top concern, and that's what we got with LSU -- a really tough team.”

Added senior quarterback Daryll Clark, “There was a little disappointment about it, but obviously we didn't win enough or do a good enough job to be BCS-worthy. But we're playing on New Year's [Day] against a really good football team down in Florida. That's something to be excited about.”

The Nittany Lions practiced Friday in Holuba Hall and will do so again Saturday. Joe Paterno considered practicing Sunday as well, but decided to give players the day off in anticipation of final exams, which begin Monday. The team will reconvene in Daytona, Fla., after finals to get ready for the Tigers, staying there from Dec. 20-24.

Paterno waved off all talk of the BCS on Friday. “I don't look at it that way,” he said. “We're playing a really fine team with a great tradition, a great fan base. It's going to be an exciting game. I think the kids have had a little bit too much humble pie. I think they've done a good job. … They won 10 games. Winning 10 games is tough to do these days, I don't care who you play and when you play them.”

A year ago, the Lions were prepping for a seemingly intriguing matchup with USC in the Rose Bowl. But things didn't go so well for them in Southern California, and Paterno was particularly unhappy with the logistics; the Lions' practice facility was nearly an hour's bus ride from the team hotel.

That shouldn't be a problem in Florida. “We'll be only eight or nine minutes away from the practices,” Paterno said. “That should not be a problem for us.”

Paterno will have something else going for him: a healthy Lee. The last time he played in a bowl game -- the 2007 Alamo Bowl -- Lee was the defensive MVP. He's been playing at an even higher level lately. Said Paterno, “I thought the last four or five games [of the regular season], he was as good as he's been, which is really good.”

Lee watched from the sideline as USC looted Penn State's defense in the Rose Bowl. Still recovering from a season-ending knee injury he had suffered the previous spring, he said he felt “helpless” as the Lions fell, 38-24. With his college playing days coming to an end, he's eager for a better result this year.

“I'm going to be extremely excited to help the team win this game,” Lee said, “and go out on a good note for my career.”

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