Given what has happened the last few weeks, today was a bit of a surprise in college football: No. 1 stayed No. 1. Penn State buried Notre Dame in the mud, 36-6.

So thorough were the top-ranked Nittany Lions, so unerring on offense and nasty on defense that drama had dashed for shelter by halftime. By then, D.J. Dozier and Steve Smith had plodded through the rain for touchdowns, and Massimo Manca had kicked three of his five field goals.

"I didn't mind the rain at all," said linebacker Rogers Alexander, of Riverdale, Md., and DeMatha High School. "In fact, it was fun."

It started to get fun for Penn State (10-0) when Notre Dame's first possession ended in a botched field-goal try and the Nittany Lions' first possession ended with a 21-yard touchdown pass to Dozier.

For the Lions, it started to get close to hilarious when Alexander jumped in front of an Irish receiver, intercepted Steve Beuerlein's pass and returned it 30 yards.

That led to Manca's second field goal; shortly after, Penn State drove 65 yards and increased its lead to 20-0, when DeMatha grad Smith scored from the two on fourth and one.

State forced six Irish fumbles and recovered two, intercepted three passes and ran 22 more plays. Significantly, the Lions had no turnovers.

Although State was only a slight favorite, the major surprise may have been fewer than 1,600 no-shows. In foul-weather gear in assorted pastels, the fans resembled 84,000 sherbet popsicles.

"It was difficult to throw," said Penn State quarterback John Shaffer. "I had to throw the ball like a basketball. It was slick when the snap came back from the center, due to the mud."

Nevertheless, Shaffer completed several long passes. Tight end Dean DiMidio had one for 25 yards and wide receiver Ray Roundtree had another for 37 yards.

Shaffer's touchdown pass to Dozier was a sideline route; the ball arrived as the tailback passed linebacker Robert Banks and before cornerback Troy Wilson could help.

A year ago, Notre Dame beat the Lions by 37 points. When State lost to Pitt by 20 the next week, Coach Joe Paterno said some of the team had played "like babies."

Today was a grown-up rout.

"Revenge was not in our mind," Shaffer insisted. "We felt we had the capability to dominate them if we played our game. We did just that."

Considering the conditions, Manca was especially fine. His 50-yard field goal just before halftime was not quite like kicking a leather-covered load of soggy socks but still extremely tough.

"I shortened my steps a bit," he said. "I made sure I planted my left foot firmly every time. Watching Notre Dame miss in the first quarter stayed on my mind a little.

"Matt (holder Knizner) and I practiced in this weather all week, so I wasn't that nervous. Matt did a great job holding (in contrast to the Irish holder failing to control the snap). Not only did he get the ball down, he had the laces spun the right way."

State had Notre Dame spinning all the wrong ways. Allen Pinkett had been very effective in games past against State; he had just 61 yards today, as the Irish fell so far behind so quickly he carried only 12 times.

"He literally demoralized us last year with big runs," Paterno said of Pinkett. "We didn't want to give him any cracks, no 20- or 40-yard runs."

Ahead 23-0, State chose to kick off after halftime. Beuerlein was back at quarterback, after being benched. Soon, safety Ray Isom mustered an interception.

Nine runs and a personal foul on the Irish yielded State's third touchdown, a one-yard plunge by Shaffer, who played two years of high school football for Notre Dame Coach Gerry Faust.

"I feel bad for him," Shaffer said of the beleaguered Faust, whose team had a four-game winning streak ended and dropped to 5-4. "If the world had more Gerry Fausts, it would be a better place for everybody."

Said Faust, graciously and accurately: "Penn State played like the No. 1 team in the country today. Neither of our quarterbacks played well; theirs did. That was the difference in the game."

This was just the second time in 10 games that the Lions have given their fans cause for celebration long before game's end.

"We don't care what the critics say (about not being dominant against relatively weak teams)," said linebacker Shane Conlan. "We just go out and play our game. By far, this was the most complete game we've had all season. Each game we get a little better. I'm very happy with the way we're playing."

So are the Orange Bowl officials. They hope that Penn State gets by Pitt next week and Nebraska remains ranked No. 2.

Penn State getting a bid to the Orange Bowl is considered a certainty. A committee member, Nick Crain, was asked at halftime what the State-Pitt game starting at 7:30 p.m. next Saturday would mean.

"It means that they'll be No. 1 at 6 o'clock (when the bids are officially extended)," he said.