The biggest winner of the day, and perhaps the season, was Joe Paterno, left, the seemingly ageless Penn State coach who will now lead the Nittany Lions to a BCS game. Just a year ago, critics were calling for Paterno to step aside, saying he was a detriment to the future of the program and that he was out of touch with the modern game. And just a few months ago, a handful of confident Penn State freshman playmakers were clamoring that the Nittany Lions could run the table and earn a berth in the Rose Bowl. At the time, it seemed like freshman bravado. It turned out to be a near reality. Penn State finished one second from an unbeaten regular season record, which would have placed Paterno's team at least in the national championship conversation. When the Post's college staff compiled our preseason top 25, we were torn on Penn State. I felt the Nittany Lions were not worthy of being ranked near the bottom of our poll. In a sense, I was right: They belonged in the top five.


Tennessee Coach Phil Fulmer said his Vols (4-6) hit "rock bottom" with yesterday's loss to Vanderbilt. Oklahoma (6-4) is not quite at that point, but the Sooners also have been one of the nation's most disappointing teams. That point was underlined yesterday with the loss to Texas Tech. The Sooners have not won a game by more than seven points since Oct. 15 against Kansas. To get a true measure of the despair within the Tennessee program, let's turn to the message boards. Among the subject titles on a Tennessee message board last night: "Worst Gameplan I've Seen In Ages," and "Our Dance Team Put More Effort In Than Our Offense."

Spinning Ahead

South Florida players understand the majority of the nation's college football fans do not want any Big East representative in the BCS this year. And the Bulls are using it as part of their fuel to earn what would be a shocking BCS berth. Who thought South Florida would be in BCS contention at this point, long after schools such as Oklahoma, Tennessee, Purdue and Texas A&M have been eliminated? That's the situation after the Bulls picked up their third consecutive Big East victory yesterday by beating Cincinnati. If South Florida can win at Connecticut on Saturday and then beat West Virginia at home Dec. 3, the Bulls will clinch at least a share of the conference title and head to the BCS. "That will mess up the nation for a little bit," South Florida running back Andre Hall said.