The 11th Fiesta Bowl will be played Friday, matching two 9-2 teams, Penn State and Southern California. NBC-TV reportedly is very happy.

It is, as a Fiesta official said, the "sexiest" matchup the bowl has ever had.

But what almost everybody wanted was to ask Joe Paterno and John Robinson about coaching the New England Patriots.

Paterno, the Penn State coach who turned down a $1 million offer from the Patriots in 1973, arrived last Saturday and was immediately confronted with the question.

"Let me say once and for all," Paterno said with a grimace, "that I haven't talked to New England. I'm not interested in talking to anybody. I just want to have a good time without anyone asking me about New England."

And from that moment, no one has done so.

Then it was Robinson's turn. Published reports said that the USC coach was the Patriots' top choice. When Robinson was late for a press conference, Patereno savored the shoe being on the other foot.

"Let's be honest," Paterno said. "Robinson's plane is late coming in from Boston."

When Robinson arrived, he offered his own denial, sort of, to the story. Asked if he had been offered the Patriots' job, Robinson snapped, "No."

"We're here for a great ball game and that's another subject," said Robinson, adding that he'd be willing to listen to any job offer after the game.

Oh yes, the game. Marcus Allen. Roy Foster. Curt Warner. Sean Farrell. Tailbacks and linemen. Where are the quarterbacks? Handing off, of course.

Robinson boiled it down to this: "Running is the definitive factor in football. In championship football, it's a matter of wearing the other guy down. Passing football doesn't accomplish that."

Robinson should know. He's got Allen, the Heisman Trophy winner who set 12 NCAA records, including season marks for carries (403), yards (2,342) and 200-yard games (eight).

Paterno waxed rhapsodic describing Allen.

"I'm just amazed at Marcus Allen, period," Paterno said. "He's such an intelligent football player. He doesn't ever seem to make the wrong move. He's like a dancer. His shoulders never move, just his feet."

Much of Allen's success is due to his offensive line, which averages 268 pounds, tackle to tackle, and is led by Foster, the 6-foot-4, 280-pound senior guard.

"Roy is the perfect guard physically," said Hudson Houck, the USC line coach.

If Foster is perfect, Sean Farrell isn't far behind. The Penn State guard, also a senior, is 6-2 and 265, bench-presses 525 pounds and loves to spring Warner through the line.

Warner, a junior, spent the last half of the season nursing a pulled hamstring muscle. But when he is healthy, as he is now, he can be as devastating as Allen. Ask Nebraska, against which Warner gained 238 yards in the second game of the season.

Privately, Warner says he is as good as Allen. But he doesn't want to be viewed as cocky. He's merely very confident.

With Warner and improving sophomore quarterback Todd Blackledge, Penn State has more diversity than the Trojans. Coming off a 262-yard passing performance against Pittsburgh, Blackledge has thrown for 1,557 yards this season. But he also has been intercepted 14 times.

His USC counterpart, left-handed sophomore John Mazur, threw only three interceptions, but accounted for only 1,005 yards passing.