The University of Southern California (USC) beat Penn State 38-24 in a Rose Bowl matchup of one-loss teams considered contenders for college football’s national title earlier this season.
In other New Year’s Day games, Georgia beat Michigan State 24-12 in the Capital One Bowl, Iowa defeated South Carolina 31-10 in the Outback Bowl and Nebraska topped Clemson 26-21 in the Gator Bowl.
At the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, quarterback Mark Sanchez threw three first-half touchdown passes and also ran for a score as USC raced out to a 31-7 halftime lead on its way to a 10th straight victory.
“The offense was on fire in the first half,” USC coach Pete Carroll said in an interview. “Mark set the tempo and we really had a chance to get moving on these guys.”
Sanchez finished with 413 passing yards and four scores for the fifth-ranked Trojans (12-1), who had been ranked No. 1 in the polls before losing to Oregon State in their third game.
USC finished behind fellow one-loss teams Oklahoma, Florida, Texas and Alabama in the final Bowl Championship Series standings, which decide the two schools that play for the national title. Oklahoma and Florida play in the BCS title game on Thursday in Miami. Carroll, who has said he’d like to see a playoff system in college football, was asked after the game if he’d like to play the Oklahoma-Florida winner.
“Unfortunately we don’t get to,” Carroll said. “Maybe someday there will be a chance, but not this year.”
Daryll Clark threw two touchdown passes and ran for a third score to lead the sixth-ranked Nittany Lions (11-2). Penn State’s only defeat before Thursday was a one-point loss at Iowa after starting the season 9-0.
Joe Paterno, the all-time leader with 23 bowl victories, coached Penn State from the press box after having hip surgery on Nov. 23.
With the score tied 7-7 after one quarter, Sanchez led USC to 24 straight second-quarter points.
The junior quarterback ran for a 6-yard score and then tossed 19-yard touchdown passes to both Ronald Johnson and C.J. Gable. The Trojans scored on five of their six first-half drives against a Penn State defense that hadn’t surrendered more than 24 points this season.
Penn State scored 17 points in the fourth quarter, when Sanchez also tossed his fourth touchdown for USC, a 45-yarder to Johnson. The Nittany Lions were the first team to score more than seven points against USC in the second half of a game this season, yet Clark threw two late interceptions as the Trojans held on for their third consecutive Rose Bowl victory.
Georgia rallied past Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl in Orlando, Florida, behind three second-half touchdown passes from Matthew Stafford. The 16th-ranked Bulldogs (10-3) trailed 6- 3 at halftime. The Spartans finished the season at 9-4.
Nebraska also had a second-half comeback in recording its first bowl win in nine years. Joe Ganz threw two touchdown passes as the Cornhuskers rallied from a 21-10 deficit against Clemson in Jacksonville, Florida.
The Cornhuskers (9-4) ended the season with a four-game winning streak under first-year coach Bo Pelini. Clemson had a three-game winning streak snapped to finish 7-6.
In the Outback Bowl, Iowa beat South Carolina behind a 121-yard, three-touchdown rushing effort by running back Shonn Greene. After the game, Greene said he would forgo his senior season to enter the NFL draft.