SAN ANTONIO (AP) – Enough about milestones. Joe Paterno hasn’t counted his games and he’s not going to start now.

Penn State (8-4) plays Texas A&M (7-5) today in the Alamo Bowl, Paterno’s 500th game as the Nittany Lions’ head coach.

JoePa would just as soon not be reminded.

“I mean, Texas A&M and Penn State players are playing the game, and I couldn’t care less if it was my 500th or my fifth,” said Paterno, who turned 81 last week. “To be very honest, I don’t think about it unless somebody brings it up.”

The Nittany Lions (8-4) will be playing in their 34th bowl game under Paterno, almost one for every year Texas A&M interim coach Gary Darnell has been working in the profession.

The well-traveled Darnell has coached at 11 colleges across 37 seasons. He’s been A&M’s defensive coordinator since 2006 and was promoted to head coach for the bowl game when Dennis Franchione resigned on Nov. 23.

While Paterno and Penn State have been college football’s model of stability, the A&M program is in flux. After the bowl game, Mike Sherman will take over the program and he’s expected to hire all new assistants – making the Alamo Bowl the last hurrah for the current staff.

Darnell thinks the game is more meaningful to A&M’s 19 seniors, who represent Franchione’s first recruiting class.

“For our coaches, it’s not their last game,” Darnell said. “The only people (for whom) it’s probably their last game is the seniors who are not going on to play professionally. For everybody else, you know, there’s another rainbow out there for them to go to and they’ll be there.”

The Aggies (7-5) are still riding high after their 38-30 win over archrival Texas on Nov. 23, easily their best performance of the season. The offense, stagnant and predictable most of the year, was suddenly freewheeling against the Longhorns, with quarterback Stephen McGee completing 25 passes for 362 yards, both season highs.

Questions hovered at A&M all season about Franchione’s future and an infamous insider newsletter that boosters paid to receive. McGee said the regular-season finale was one of the few times the team successfully set aside the distractions and played to its potential.

“There’s just an air of confidence that you get and you can just feel it,” McGee said. “It’s just everybody knows that no matter what play is called or what’s going on, everybody’s going to take care of business and we’re going to be successful.”

Penn State last played on Nov. 17, blowing a 24-7 second-half lead in a 35-31 loss to Michigan State. Like A&M, Penn State dealt with its share of adversity.

Most recently, defensive tackle Chris Baker and backup linebacker Navorro Bowman were charged last month with assault over a campus fight. Cornerback Knowledge Timmons also was charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct and defiant trespass in connection with an incident after the fight. Paterno suspended all three players for the Michigan State game and for the Alamo Bowl.

Baker may be the biggest loss, a starter who improved as the season went along. He finished with 4 sacks.

“Forget about it, will you?” he said when asked Friday about the three players. “Let’s talk about the football game, for crying out loud.”

Penn State beat Texas A&M 24-0 in the 1999 Alamo Bowl and even with the losses, this year’s defense seems capable of pitching another shutout. The Nittany Lions rank eighth nationally in points allowed (17.6) and sixth against the run (88 yards per game).

“We’re not going in there with a bunch of undersized, under-athletic kids,” Paterno said. “We’ve got a tough job ahead of us and then we’ve tried to get those kids ready for that. But I think we’re fortunate enough that we’ve had extra time you have for a bowl game.”

The game will be the last for maligned quarterback Anthony Morelli, who was often the scapegoat whenever the Nittany Lions struggled the last two seasons. Morelli needs 172 yards on Saturday to break Kerry Collins’ single-season record (2,679), set in 1994.

“You’re going to have your ups and downs,” Morelli said. “At Penn State, everyone’s favorite quarterback is the backup. You’re going to hear the boos. When you win, you’re going to be the best quarterback in the world and when you lose, they’re going to be looking for the next guy.”

The Nittany Lions have won 22 bowl games under Paterno, including four of the last five. The Aggies have lost nine of their last 11 bowl appearances, including the two they played under Franchione.

AP-ES-12-28-07 1736EST

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