Paterno unsurprised by up-and-down year

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Joe Paterno’s 45th team at Penn State finished the 2010 regular season with a 28-22 loss to No. 10 Michigan State at Beaver Stadium on Saturday.

After losing two of their last three games, the Nittany Lions finished the regular season with a 7-5 record. For the first time since 2004, Penn State will fail to win at least nine games in a season.

But Paterno, who turns 84 on Dec. 21, said he isn’t surprised by his team’s record.

“I don’t know whether it’s a big disappointment,” Paterno said. “I thought coming into the season -- to be very frank with you -- I thought we had a chance to be 8-3. We were probably one game away, record-wise, from what I think our expectations realistically should have been with this football team. I think at the end of the year, they became a good team.”

Penn State’s youth might have prevented it from becoming a real challenger in the Big Ten race. In the Sept. 4 opener against Youngstown State on Sept. 4, Robert Bolden became the first Nittany Lions freshman to start at quarterback since 1910. He played relatively well before suffering a concussion against Minnesota on Oct. 23, and then sophomore Matt McGloin took over down the stretch.

All told, the Nittany Lions played seven true freshmen this season. Penn State had only seven seniors who were significant contributors on offense or defense. All-Big Ten guard Stefen Wisniewski and tailback Evan Royster, the school’s all-time leading rusher, are among the players who will depart after the team’s bowl game.

“There weren’t enough of them to show the kind of senior leadership that you would ordinarily expect from a senior class,” Paterno said.

Paterno, who won his 400th game this season, said earlier this week that he plans to return for another season in 2011. No one from Penn State has said anything to suggest that Paterno won’t be back on the sideline next season.

Paterno hopes this year’s growing pains will produce better results next year.

“I think the young kids got a chance to be in some tough games and won some games where they were behind and were able to pull them out,” Paterno said. “It was an up-and-down year. I think we all had to expect the team to be a little bit up and down. I think it turned out to be about what I thought it would. We might have had another win or two, but I thought most of the time we played decent football.”

Royster believes the Nittany Lions will be better next season.

“[Michigan State] was 11-1 and we played right with them,” Royster said. “It is tough finishing with a 7-5 season. It hurts, but it just shows that we are close. What this team does in the future will be good.”