As the Penn State players bounced around the field, exchanging hugs and saluting the thousands of fans who came to see the Nittany Lions...
EAST LANSING, Mich. — As the Penn State players bounced around the field, exchanging hugs and saluting the thousands of fans who came to see the Nittany Lions become champions again, Joe Paterno ducked and ran for cover.
After 40 seasons and 353 wins, the 78-year-old coach has been part of more celebrations than he can count.
But for his players, it’s been a long hard road to the program’s first appearance in the Bowl Championship Series.
JoePa and the fifth-ranked Nittany Lions locked up their first Big Ten title in 11 years and the BCS bid that goes with it by defeating Michigan State 31-22 Saturday.
Michael Robinson ran for 90 yards and a touchdown and passed for another TD, and Alan Zemaitis had three interceptions for Penn State (10-1, 7-1).
Coming off a 4-7 season, its fourth losing year in the last five, Penn State tied Ohio State for the Big Ten lead but will get the league’s automatic BCS bid because the Lions beat the Buckeyes in October.
“I’ve been around a lot of good football teams and I’ve been in a lot of locker rooms where we’ve felt pretty good about what we had done,” Paterno said. “The kids are the ones that are all fired up and they should be, because they went though all that junk — the losing years, everyone doubting them and they got together and went to work. They’re the guys that should be happy.”
Michigan State (5-6, 2-6), which began the season 4-0, finished it with six losses in seven games to post consecutive losing seasons for the first time since 1992.
When it was over, the Nittany Lions partied in Spartan Stadium but Paterno bolted to the tunnel with his head down, looking up just long enough to give the Penn State section a wave on the way out.
“He deserves it,” said Robinson, had a 33-yard TD run in the second quarter. “He really does. He’s worked so hard. He stayed with us. People told him to retire. Now look at him. Nobody’s saying to retire and no more Joe must go Web sites. None of that. I’m just so happy for him.”
No. 4 Louisiana St. 40, Mississippi 7
OXFORD, Miss. — JaMarcus Russell threw two touchdown passes and LSU’s defense smothered Mississippi to move the fourth-ranked Tigers one step closer to the SEC championship game and possibly the national-title game.
LSU (9-1, 6-1 SEC) held Ole Miss to 7 yards rushing and gave the Rebels their worst loss in Oxford in 56 years.
“Every team starts the season with goals and ambitions. Very few teams get to November and have everything to play for,” coach Les Miles said. “The ability to win the West, win the conference, play in a BCS bowl — all those things still loom very strong for this football team. … We’re right where we want to be.”
No. 6 Notre Dame 34, Syracuse 10
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Brady Quinn threw two touchdown passes and Leo Ferrine returned an interception for a touchdown, giving Notre Dame (8-2) a victory over Syracuse.
Darius Walker, who rushed for 123 yards on 26 carries, had a 3-yard TD run in the fourth quarter. The Irish struggled on offense, with Quinn not as sharp as he has been and receivers dropping catchable balls, but were still good enough to beat the Orange (1-9).
Notre Dame (8-2) needs to beat Stanford next week to remain eligible for its first Bowl Championship Series berth since 2000. Students threw tortillas back and forth throughout the game in anticipation of a possible Fiesta Bowl invitation.
Syracuse lost its eighth straight — its longest losing streak since losing its final game of 1972 and the first eight games of 1973 — and must beat No. 18 Louisville to avoid the first 10-loss season in school history.
No. 7 Virginia Tech 52, Virginia 14
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Virginia Tech dominated archrival Virginia to keep alive its hopes of gaining a spot in the Bowl Championship Series.
Two weeks after getting beaten convincingly by No. 3 Miami, Cedric Humes ran for 113 yards and three touchdowns and Marcus Vick threw for two more scores.
Virginia Tech (9-1, 6-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) also turned three Virginia (6-4, 3-4) turnovers into touchdowns and shut down Marques Hagans and the Cavaliers offense.
No. 14 Georgia 45, Kentucky 13
ATHENS, Ga. — D.J. Shockley threw four touchdown passes, Danny Ware scored on a 52-yard run and Georgia wrapped up the SEC East with a rout of Kentucky.
Georgia squandered a pair of chances to wrap up the division title, losing to Florida and Auburn for only the second two-game losing streak since Mark Richt took over as coach in 2001.
But the Bulldogs (8-2, 6-2) rarely lose to Kentucky, winning their ninth straight.
Shockley, one of the seniors honored before Georgia’s final home game of the season, completed 17 of 31 for 159 yards in less than three quarters.
The Bulldogs will be appearing in the SEC title game for the third time in four years. They meet the SEC West champion in Atlanta on Dec. 3 — with the winner likely getting a spot in the Sugar Bowl.
Clemson 13, No. 19 South Carolina 9
COLUMBIA, S.C. — James Davis rushed for 145 yards and his 2-yard touchdown run lifted the Tigers (7-4) to their eighth victory in the last nine tries against the Gamecocks (7-4).
Steve Spurrier had hoped to conclude a season of success — the Gamecocks broke long streaks of failure with wins over Tennessee and Florida this year — with South Carolina’s first victory over Clemson since 2001.
No. 21 Texas Tech 23, Oklahoma 21
LUBBOCK, Texas — Taurean Henderson scored on a 2-yard run as time expired to lift Texas Tech (9-2, 6-2 Big 12) over Oklahoma (6-4, 5-2), breaking the Sooners’ five-game winning streak over the Red Raiders.
Henderson took the handoff with 2 seconds remaining and went up the middle. As he was going down, he stretched out his arms and got the ball across the goal line. The play was reviewed but the touchdown call was upheld, giving Tech coach Mike Leach his first victory in six tries against former boss Bob Stoops. Leach was Oklahoma’s offensive coordinator in 1999.
Tech (9-2, 6-2 Big 12) trailed 21-17 when it got the ball at its own 35 with 1:33 remaining and no timeouts.
Cody Hodges completed passes of 26 and 7 yards to Robert Johnson and an 18-yarder to Danny Amendola to help get the Red Raiders to the Oklahoma 5 with 13 seconds remaining.
No. 23 Boston College 31, Maryland 16
COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Jolonn Dunbar scored on a 94-yard fumble return and Ray Henderson took an interception 35 yards for a touchdown, leading Boston College past Maryland.
Andre Callender had 121 yards rushing and a score for the Eagles, who never trailed in their regular-season finale.
Playing in its first year in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Boston College (8-3, 5-3) finished tied with Florida State atop the Atlantic Division. But the Seminoles will advance to the title game by virtue of their 28-17 win over the Eagles in September.
UAB 35, No. 24 Texas-El Paso 23
EL PASO, Texas — Darrell Hackney threw four touchdown passes to support teammate Sam Williamson’s midweek guarantee of a road victory. Reggie Lindsey caught three of Hackney’s TD passes and UAB (5-5, 3-4 Conference USA) snapped UTEP’s nine-game home winning streak, denying the Miners (8-2, 5-2) a chance to clinch the league’s Western Division title.
“We came in with a plan and it worked,” coach Watson Brown said. “We didn’t care about yards. We just wanted to eat clock and get it to the fourth quarter. We wanted to do everything we could to make their offense go a long way, make them 5- and 6-yard us to death.”