MIAMI, DEC. 28 -- There is one less pretender for the national championship crown tonight.
Seventh-ranked Penn State, which entertained hopes of a national title if all the right teams lost New Year's Day, was defeated in the inaugural Blockbuster Bowl by Florida State, 24-17, before 74,021 at Joe Robbie Stadium, the second largest crowd to gather here. Only Super Bowl XXIII attracted more spectators to this stadium.
A furious comeback attempt led by Nittany Lions reserve quarterback Tom Bill fell short, and the Seminoles gave Coach Bobby Bowden his first victory over Penn State and his ninth consecutive bowl appearance without a loss.
"My team finally won," Bowden said. "Sixty-one years it took."
The sixth-ranked Seminoles (10-2) were led by Casey Weldon, who completed 22 of 36 passes for 248 yards and ran for the final touchdown. Tailback Amp Lee scored the first two touchdowns and gained 86 yards on 21 carries.
This first Blockbuster Bowl was long; had it lasted another seven minutes, it would have moved into a second day. Were it a movie, it would have rivaled "Gone With the Wind." Not in quality, but certainly in length.
Plagued by an interminable number of television timeouts, the game dragged until Bill entered with 7:32 to play in place of struggling Tony Sacca, who was 12 of 25 for 194 yards and two interceptions. Penn State was trailing 24-10, but Bill led the team on a 62-yard drive in just three plays, the last a 37-yard scoring pass to wide receiver Terry Smith with 6:27 to play.
The Nittany Lions (9-3), who had won nine straight games, had the ball two more times but failed to move.
The Seminoles, whose two losses came to Miami and Auburn in the middle of the season, ended the faint hope of Penn State to somehow sneak into the nation's No. 1 ranking.
The Nittany Lions defeated Notre Dame last month and were hoping that a victory by Notre Dame over No. 1 Colorado in the Orange Bowl, coupled with a No. 2 Georgia Tech loss to Nebraska in the Citrus Bowl, might propel them to No. 1.
"I hope we end up in the top three" in the polls, Bowden said. "If the right people lost, this might be one of those years where no one deserves to win it. If nobody deserves to win it, then we don't deserve to win it as much as anyone else."
As coach at West Virginia, Bowden was 0-6 against the Nittany Lions.
"We had some opportunities early and we didn't take advantage of them," Penn State Coach Joe Paterno said. "We never got close enough that we could play our football game."
Florida State averaged 46.6 points in its last five games and appeared well on its way to matching that in the first quarter. The Seminoles burst to a 10-0 lead, then added another touchdown after Penn State scored for a 17-7 lead with 13:28 left in the half.
Richie Andrews kicked a 41-yard field goal with 10:47 left in the first quarter after Florida State's first possession stalled after 59 yards at the Penn State 24.
Penn State punted back to Florida State a minute later. It was a terrible punt, shanked off the foot of Doug Helkowski, and returner Terrell Buckley, who had scored twice on punt returns this season, fielded the bouncing ball at his 46.
Hemmed in, he began to retreat, and ended up at his 29 before making a sharp left turn and starting up the right sideline. A moment away from disaster, he turned the play into a brilliant triumph as he dashed 39 yards (56 if you count from the 29) to the Penn State 15.
From there, it was easy for the Seminoles as Weldon kept the ball for a 13-yard gain to the 2, then Lee moved the ball to the 1 before scoring on the next play. With 8:20 left in the first quarter, the Seminoles led by 10-0.
Penn State, meanwhile, was plagued by mistakes. Wide receiver David Daniels dropped the first two passes thrown to him; tailback Gary Brown fumbled a handoff from Sacca on Penn State's second play; Sacca was intercepted twice inside the FSU 35 in the second half; and a 22-yard field goal attempt by Craig Fayak was blocked midway through the second quarter.
Still, the Nittany Lions kept the game close with a bizarre touchdown with 1:13 left in the first quarter.
Sacca went back to pass from his own 44, then stepped up and fired into the middle of the field, apparently for tight end Al Golden. Suddenly, Daniels had the ball and was running like mad toward the end zone. The receivers had been next to each other, the ball passed between them, and Daniels ended up with it and a 56-yard touchdown.
The Seminoles added their second touchdown when Lee picked his way into the end zone on a seven-yard run over the right side early in the second quarter. Florida State went 70 yards in seven plays, moving to the Penn State 12 on a 29-yard reception by Lawrence Dawsey. Two plays later, Lee scored his second touchdown.