Joe Paterno is involved in a salad and his thoughts at the Nittany Lion Inn on the Penn State campus. This is one of those days when all considerations seem fine. The spring tomatoes are ripe and flavorful, and Paterno has just had one of the better recruiting years in his 18 seasons at Penn State. It certainly was his best ever in Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina. Indeed, Paterno wooed three superb Southerners who he thinks could help him win another national championship. Not this year, but maybe in '85. Paterno's mood is convivial—until last season's 0-3 start comes up. Then his eyes and voice drop noticeably. "We were broken," he says. "Broken."
After those defeats, the Lions were 8-1-1, with the only loss being to Boston College. "When I took over in 1966, we went five and five," Paterno says. "Then the next year we lost the opener to Navy. Then a win, then a loss to UCLA. Then we didn't lose for a while." A while was 2½ seasons, during which the Nittany Lions went 30-0-1. But critics scoffed at the patsies on the Penn State schedule and said to the Lions: Go south or west, if you dare. Paterno broadened the schedule, and in 1982 Penn State won the national championship.
As Paterno's teams took to the road, they attracted the interest of high school players south and west. Penn State's home-and-home series with Alabama the last two years influenced running back Kevin Woods of Fultondale High in Birmingham to go to University Park. "You'd figure we couldn't get a road map down there," says Paterno with a smile. From Athens, Ga., right out from under Georgia coach Vince Dooley's nose, comes center George Mrvos. "Incredible player," says Paterno. However, the most talented freshman may be Raymond Roundtree, a wide receiver from Aiken, S.C. Sorry about that, Clemson.
"Roundtree is an honors graduate, a very exceptional student," Paterno says. "That had to do with his decision." Roundtree's smarts and 4.4 40s take the sting out of Penn State's losing such pass catchers as Kevin Baugh and All-America Kenny Jackson. Sophomore wide receiver Sid Lewis, who has a 10.3 100 meters to his credit, should fill in nicely, too.
At quarterback is senior Doug Strang, who looked so awful he was benched in a 44-6 loss to Nebraska in the '83 Kickoff Classic. "I felt badly about the way I handled that," says Paterno. "But we straightened it out. He's the man." For the season Strang ended up completing 134 of 259 passes (51.7%) for 1,944 yards and 19 touchdowns, and threw only seven interceptions.
Last fall D.J. Dozier became the first freshman in Penn State history to rush for 1,000 yards (1,035), and he eased the loss of Curt Warner to the NFL. Paterno tried to downplay Dozier's feats, but that may be more difficult in '84. "You've got to give Dozier a chance to do something first," Paterno says, trying to keep the Dozier hype down. "He doesn't have to be Superman, but he does have to play well." In fact, the 6'1", 201-pound Dozier may well be the best sophomore runner in the country.
Paterno redshirted 29 players last season—the first time he played that game—and now those redshirts will form the nucleus of the defense. Of the team's 61 returnees, 41 are sophomores, and inexperience could hurt Paterno at times. "We have to look at losing some games," says Paterno. O.K., say, three. "This is the youngest team and the toughest schedule we've ever had," says Paterno, who has consecutive games with Iowa, Texas, Maryland and Alabama. There's no more talk, though, of being broken.
It's not stretching it to say that Dozier may be the best sophomore runner in the country.