The Orange Bowl people already had committed themselves to having Joe Paterno's boys in Miami on New Year's day when the guys in the dull, white uniforms stepped on the artificial turf of Pitt Stadium to face a Panthers team that had nothing to lose but another game.

The Nittany Lions of Penn State, on the other hand, had a whole bunch to lose. The national championship, for a start. They were ranked No. 1 with a 10-0 record and were real keen on the idea of imitating the 1982 Penn State team that was Paterno's first national champion.

So tonight Penn State just plain crushed Pitt, 31-0, in a contest that was over by halftime.

If Oklahoma can manage to beat Oklahoma State and SMU, the Orange Bowl might have No. 1 against No. 2. You can't ask for more than that. And Paterno wasn't.

"I'm very excited about going back to Miami," Paterno said. "That's the way a championship should be decided. When we talked about where we wanted to go we said we wanted to play the best team we could play. We didn't want to back into it or anything."

Paterno, who called last year's team babies, said this year's squad is about where he thought they'd be in their execution.

"We've always talked about trying to build a national championship caliber team," Paterno said. "I think we're ahead of where I thought we'd be. I thought we'd be a good team but I didn't think we would be 11-0. If you'd thought we'd be 11-0 you'd be in another world."

Although Paterno was glad to have his New Year's Day all booked, he wasn't ready to pack his bags.

"I don't even want to think about Oklahoma and the wishbone," he said of his team's opponent. Then referring to reporters, added, "You guys won't even let me enjoy this one first."

And enjoyable it was -- if your allegiance was to the gang from Happy Valley.

"I don't know if there were any positive aspects," said Pitt Coach Foge Fazio, who might have coached his last game as the Panthers finished 5-5-1. In four years under Fazio, Pitt is 25-18-3.

Penn State had only 28 more yards of total offense than Pitt, but don't let that fool you. The Nittany Lions haven't dazzled anyone with statistics this year. They've won by turning opponents' turnovers into points, playing tough defense and scoring when they had to.

"They didn't do anything that we didn't expect," Pitt defensive end Tony Woods said. "They executed real well and they capitalized on our mistakes. They are by far the No. 1 team in the country. They proved that tonight."

The No. 1 team also had a scare in the fourth quarter when tailback D.J. Dozier, who finished with 57 yards on 13 carries and the first touchdown of the game, left on a stretcher. It was determined that Dozier separated his left elbow and will be out of action for two to four weeks but should be ready for the Orange Bowl.

Dozier's seven-yard run had made it 7-0 with 13:46 to go in the second quarter. The Lions went up 14-0 when junior fullback Tim Manoa, who was born in Tonga but played his final two years of high school in this city, rambled 60 yards for the first of his two touchdowns.

He would later score on a three-yard run to make it 28-0 early in the fourth quarter; he finished with 90 yards on seven carries.

Pitt was all but finished when it went to the locker room at the half trailing, 21-0.

The key play came on the first play of its drive following Manoa's first touchdown. Forced to start at his 14 because of a penalty on the kickoff, quarterback John Congemi set up to pass on his two.

He was hit by defensive end Don Graham and fumbled into the end zone, where linebacker Pete Giftopoulos scooped up the bouncing ball for a touchdown that put Penn State in control at 21-0.