Nov. 22, 2008

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) -Regardless of whether he stays or goes, Joe Paterno has Penn State back atop the Big Ten and headed to the Rose Bowl.

Daryll Clark threw for career-highs of 341 yards and four touchdowns and a stingy defense held Javon Ringer to a season-low 42 yards as the No. 7 Nittany Lions clinched BCS bid with a 49-18 victory against No. 17 Michigan STATE on Saturday.

Coaching again from the press box because of a sore hip, Paterno surely smiled after Penn State (11-1, 7-1) secured a share of the conference title and the school's first trip to Pasadena since 1995.

Whether it was JoePa's last game at Beaver Stadium remains unclear, as the Hall of Famer doesn't have a contract after this season. Both he and the school president have said Paterno doesn't need one to stay on a job he's had a record 43 seasons.

"Joe Paterno! Joe Paterno!" yelled fans in the stands midway through the fourth quarter as they turned and waved at the coach in the press box.

Paterno hasn't talked about quitting, and he's dropped hints of late that he plans to return in 2009.

It was a memorable day nonetheless in Happy Valley.

The Nittany Lions claimed a share of the Big Ten title with Ohio State, which beat Michigan earlier Saturday.

But Penn State owns the conference's automatic BCS bid by virtue of its 13-6 win over the Buckeyes earlier this year. Some players tried to get defensive coordinator Tom Bradley, who's taken the lead role on the sideline with Paterno in the press box, to hold a rose in his mouth in the closing seconds.

Bradley tried stay serious, fighting back a smile, as the players celebrated.

The final home game for Derrick Williams, Deon Butler and 15 other Penn State seniors ended with the school joining Michigan, Notre Dame, Texas, Nebraska and Ohio State as programs with 800 victories.

Butler caught three TDs in his last home game, and, fittingly, Williams and fellow senior captain Anthony Scirrotto played integral roles in helping Penn State build a 28-0 lead late in the first half.

Under pressure, Michigan STATE quarterback Brian Hoyer rushed a pass over the middle. Scirrotto stepped in front for an interception at the Spartans 46, returning it 14 yards.

On the next play, Williams made a leaping catch at the 2 on a pass from Clark with Spartans safety Danny Fortener right on the receiver's back. Williams' momentum carried him into the end zone for a score and Penn State's four-touchdown lead.

The Spartans (9-3, 6-2) went to a hurry-up offense late in the first half to finally break through, and Ringer, third in the nation in rushing coming into the game, plunged in from the 1 with 22 seconds left to cut it to 28-7. It was Ringer's 21st touchdown of the seson, tying him with Jehuu Caulcrick (2007) for most in school history.

But the game was too far out of reach by then.

After struggling in the first half the last three weeks, Penn State's spread HD offense clicked all day, with Clark finishing 16-of-26 passing. Williams had 51 yards receiving on four catches.

Jordan Norwood had a career-high 127 yards on five receptions. All of Butler's receptions were for touchdowns, from four, 59, and a 70-yarder that gave PENN STATE a 42-7 lead in the third quarter.

The second half was a mere formality before the 109,000-plus fans at Beaver Stadium could officially celebrate Penn State's first conference title since 2005, when the Nittany Lions also shared it with the Buckeyes.

"We are ... PENN STATE!" roared through the stands in the game's waning minutes.