Joe Paterno is finally getting his wish.

It's too bad he's not around to witness it.

The longtime Penn State football coach had long lobbied for Penn State to have an Eastern partner in the Big Ten Conference.

The tradition-bound league, however, stood pat with an unwieldy 11 teams for nearly two decades. And when the Big Ten finally decided to join the expansion craze and add a 12th team a couple years back, it looked to the west instead, adding Nebraska.

Penn State remained an Eastern outcast in a Midwest club.

Now, just more than a year after he was unceremoniously dumped as PSU's head coach, and 10 months after his death, Paterno's dream is finally being realized.

Twice.

The Nittany Lions will soon have two Eastern rivals in the Big Ten -- old friends Maryland and Rutgers.

From a strictly Happy Valley perspective, this is good news for the Nittany Nation.

Penn State gets to renew series with two nearby programs that used to appear on the PSU schedule on a nearly annual basis. It gives the Lions some regional rivals in the Big Ten -- something they have long been lacking.

It's true that the Lions dominated both Maryland and Rutgers over the years, going 35-1-1 vs. the Terrapins and 22-2 vs. the Scarlet Knights. But many if not most of those victories occurred when Penn State football was at its zenith from the late-1960s through the mid-1990s. It's highly unlikely that Penn State will continue its complete mastery of the Terps and Knights when the rivalries are renewed.

Since the turn of the century, Penn State's program has drifted backwards. During the early part of the century, the Lions suffered four losing seasons in five years. And the current PSU program is now dealing with severe NCAA sanctions that will hamper its competitiveness for at least the next five years.

Perennial doormat Rutgers, meanwhile, has flourished recently, going 65-34 in the last eight seasons.

Maryland, under Susquehannock High School graduate Randy Edsall, has struggled the last couple years, going 6-17. But Edsall has been hampered by some factors that are unlikely to continue.

This year's team has been simply devastated by injuries, especially at the most important position on the field -- quarterback. The Terps have been forced to play a linebacker at QB in recent weeks. That kind of injury nightmare is very unlikely to continue.

And last year's Maryland team suffered through a strained transition from the Ralph Friedgen regime to the Edsall era. A number of Terps, who were accustomed to Friedgen's more laid-back approach, bristled under Edsall's more hard-nosed attitude. Not surprisingly, dozens of them left the program.

Once Edsall stacks the Terps' roster with his kind of players, more wins should follow. Edsall's track record at UConn proves he is a solid college football coach. He hasn't forgotten how to coach in two years.

But competition on the field is not the only reason that Lion fans should welcome the additions of Maryland and Rutgers.

Both schools immediately become PSU's nearest Big Ten neighbors, with each less than 230 miles from State College. That will mean some easier road trips for the football team, but just as importantly, for non-revenue sports as well.

New Jersey and the Baltimore/Washington metroplex also each boast huge numbers of PSU alumni, estimated in the 25,000 range. Those alumni will be delighted at the opportunity to watch Penn State play every other season in their own backyards.

PSU fans in Pennsylvania, meanwhile, will also be much more likely to make road trips to College Park and New Brunswick, rather than Minneapolis or Lincoln.

Blue-chip players from Maryland and New Jersey -- which have long been fertile recruiting grounds for PSU -- will also know they'll get to play a couple games in front of their home-state fans during their PSU careers.

Of course, the recruiting coin will flip both ways. Maryland and Rutgers will probably be able to use their membership in the Big Ten to help keep some home-state players in house that may have previously considered the Lions.

Still, all in all, the Blue-and-White faithful should welcome the addition of Maryland and Rutgers to the Big Ten. The Lions will no longer be Eastern outcasts in a Midwest club.

That would please Paterno to no end.

It's just too bad he won't be around to see it.

Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dis patch. He can be reached at sheiser@yorkdis patch.com.