To watch Penn State players frolic about New Orleans and to listen to their coach, Joe Paterno, say they are doing it at his insistence causes one to wonder if this is the same well disciplined team that is ranked No. 1 in the nation, unbeaten, untied and four days away from perhaps the most important football game in its school's history.

The Nittany Lions have never won a national championship, but if they beat Alabama New Year's Day in the Sugar Bowl the title will be theirs.

Unlike 1968, '69 and '73 when the Lions went undefeated and were not voted the national champions, this Penn State team is not worried, although Paterno does feel it has something to prove.

"I'm still not sure how good we are," Paterno said. "That's one reason we wanted to play a team as good as Alabama. I think we have some things we have to prove."

"I don't feel any pressure on me," said All-America quarterback Chuck Fusina. "We've come down to win the game and have a good time. You have to in New Orleans. You can't sit in your hotel at night."

Fusina said he spent his first night here (Tuesday) "checking out the streets to see where we could leave from and still get back in time for bed check."

Paterno has declared a 1 a.m. curfew.

Paterno decided against taking his players to New Orleans before Christmas, preferring to let them go home for the holiday.

"I have a lot of confidence in this team," he said. "I'm very much at ease going into the game, regardless of the implications. They'll do as well as anyone possibly can with the amount of practice time they'll have. They'll find a way to make it enough.

"We've had a great year, a super year, no matter what happens and it can be even greater."

Paterno has done plenty of thinking about Alabama and feels the Tide will have a number of advantages.

"They have everything going for them," he said. "It's a home game for them, and it's an SEC crowd and they had good weather to practice in back home. I don't want this to sound like an alibi, though," he added. "If we're good enough, none of this will make any difference."

There are a number of Penn State critics who maintain the Lions had an easy road to their 11-0 record and No. 1 ranking.

"When I first saw them I said thty didn't play anybody good," said Alabama linebacker Barry Krauss. "Then I saw the films.

"They execute well, they don't fumble, they don't make too many penalties, they're well disciplined and they show a lot of class," he said. "They don't run anything fancy, just basic plays. They have good blocking techniques and Fusina hits his receivers well. It will denfinitely be a test for our defense because they can run and pass.

"They might try one or two gimmicks, but I think they'll do what they've done all year -- try to blow you our. They come straight at you and blow people out of there."

Krauss added that a big plus for Penn State is running back Booker Moore. Matt Suhey and Mike Guman are the muscle backs, but Moore is the speed the Lions needed and have used to help them get where they are.

Moore, a sophomore from Flint, Mich., was their second-best rusher with 625 yards on 143 attempts.

Moore ran 27 yards for the only Penn State touchdown in a 10-7 opening victory over Temple and scored three touchdowns in a rout of Texas Christian. H was the key ground gainer against Syracuse, Maryland, Kentucky and Pitt.

Penn State is a one-point favorite here... It will be the first time Penn State has played a wishbone team since it faced Alabama in 1975... Paterno and Alabama Coach Bear Bryant said at a news conference today that they felt Alabama was better than third-ranked Southern California and the national champion should be the team that wins this game.