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That’s what I’ve been saying…

This weekend, another season of USF football begins. In its short existence, USF has gone from Division I-AA to a BCS conference, making its own history along the way. But this weekend’s opponent is unlike any other. It’s a school that is rich in tradition and is quite possibly one of the greatest football programs ever.

I know what you’re saying: “How does he know that?”

My first trip to State College was to visit my girlfriend, a Penn State alumna, in October 2003. Penn State was playing Ohio State, the defending national champions at the time, and Beaver Stadium was sold out. A long walk from her apartment and a packed bus ride later, we were looking out across a field of RVs and cars in front of the stadium.

I know what you’re saying: “I’ve seen tons of cars parked close before. What about the Sun Dome parking lot on the first week of classes?”

Well, this was the first time I have ever seen more than 20,000 vehicles parked. It was also the first time I ever drank a beer at eight in the morning. According to my girlfriend, more than 20,000 people go just to tailgate and when they all arrive, State College becomes the third-largest city in Pennsylvania.

Not only was the game awesome – a 21-20 defeat when PSU failed to convert a last-second field goal – the crowd was inspiring.

The Bulls will have their hands full with the 107,282 in attendance who spend almost half the game screaming at the top of their lungs. Stir in a Penn State defense that was ranked ninth last season, and mix in the phenomenal freshmen receivers Derrick Williams and Justin King, and you have a recipe for disaster for USF.

I know what you’re saying: “Well what about Andre Hall?”

I’m not implying that Andre Hall isn’t good, but Penn State has had 20 Andre Halls. Ki-Jana Carter, Curtis Enis, Franco Harris – the list goes on and on.

They treat their football players like gods. Every pregame night the football players spend their bedtimes in a resort nearby. On game days, players are brought in on large blue buses, and they can be seen giving autographs and taking pictures after games.

And if the players are gods, then their Zeus is Joe Paterno.

If a school could be named after a coach then this would be “Joe Pa” University.

When he first got to Penn State, Beaver Stadium sat around 44,000 and Penn State was no more than a farmer’s college. But 55 years, five undefeated seasons and two national championships later, Paterno has helped put Penn State on the map. Paterno and his wife have given more than $4 million to the school and even helped fund the construction of a library that bears his name. This is Paterno’s 40th year as head coach, an amazing number in this era of “Win or else” college football.

I know what you’re saying: “Joe Paterno is old and senile!”

Watch the 78-year-old man on the sidelines yelling at referees and throwing his coat in defiance, and it’s obvious that the old coach has still got some fire left in him. He still leads his players in running out of the gate and onto the field just as he did 40 years ago. He is almost as recognizable as you can get in sports and he is part of what makes Penn State football so great.

I know what you’re saying: “If you love Penn State so much, why don’t you just transfer?”

I can’t transfer. I’m stuck here.

And it’s not the school – it’s the atmosphere. Having visited The Swamp, Kyle Field and Doak Campbell, I’ve seen some of the best atmospheres college football has to offer and I have to say, Penn State is the best. Unlike Michigan’s Big House – which seats 219 more – Beaver Stadium is acoustically awesome, and every scream and holler from every fan reverberates in your inner ear until you can’t hear yourself think.

But you don’t have to think.

You just bask in the glory and the tradition and think back to the greats of the game and the greats who are still on the field.

It’s college football heaven: a place that you step inside and get chills.

I know what you’re saying: “How can you get chills from a stupid game?”

Just do me a favor.

Watch the Bulls play the Nittany Lions this weekend. Take a careful look at the USF players as they step on the field and note their demeanor. If you are really looking close, you might catch a glimpse of a tiny smile on one of the players’ faces.

Then you’ll know what I’m talking about.