Penn State 31,

Michigan State 22

-- 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 score, and Alan Zemaitis had three interceptions for Penn State (10-1, 6-1).

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 through 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, who had a 33-yard touchdown 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."

Paterno wasn't too happy with his team earlier in the week, so he booted the whole bunch from practice on Tuesday.

"They took it," Paterno said. "Nobody pouted. The captains got them together and all's well that ends well."

Zemaitis's second interception came in the third quarter, and he returned it 17 yards to the Michigan State 4. Robinson threw a three-yard touchdown pass to Deon Butler moments later for a 24-7 lead.

Paterno, pant-cuffs rolled and kept warm on a cold, windy night by a long, dark winter coat, barely reacted to the score, turning away to resume pacing the sideline as his players and coaches jumped for joy.

Michael Robinson, right, Matthew Rice embrace following the Nittany Lions' first Big Ten title in 11 years. "He deserves it," Robinson said of Coach Joe Paterno.