NEW YORK (AP) – Joe Paterno and Penn State are in the clubhouse, hoping for Southern California or Texas to fumble away their chances to play for the national championship.

The Nittany Lions moved up one spot into third place in the Bowl Championship Series standings on Monday behind the unbeaten Trojans and Longhorns.

Penn State became the first team to lock up a spot in the BCS by winning the Big Ten’s automatic bid on Saturday with a 31-22 victory over Michigan State. The Nittany Lions finished the regular season 10-1.

The top two teams in the final BCS standings, which come out Dec. 4, will play in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 4 for the national championship.

With two weeks and numerous big games still to be played, the Nittany Lions can only watch, wait and root for an upset that might get them a trip to Pasadena, Calif.

The Trojans are first in the BCS standings, as they have been for four out of the previous five weeks, but their lead on Texas is tiny. USC has a BCS average of .9807 and Texas is at .9791, not that it matters.

The important thing for USC and Texas is they’re way ahead of Penn State and only need to remain undefeated to reach the Rose Bowl.

The Trojans have been No. 1 in the AP, coaches’ and Harris polls all season. The coaches’ and Harris poll each count for a third of a team’s BCS average. Texas is first in the computer rankings, which account for the final third of a BCS average. Texas gained ground on USC in the polls Sunday after the Trojans’ wild 50-42 victory over Fresno State.

The Longhorns were idle last week and finish their regular season at Texas A&M on Friday before playing in the Big 12 title game Dec. 3. Colorado will be Texas’ opponent in Houston if the Buffaloes beat Nebraska on Friday.

USC, which has clinched the Pac-10’s automatic BCS berth, finishes its regular season Dec. 3 against UCLA.

Orange and Fiesta bowl officials were in East Lansing, Mich., on Saturday and congratulated Paterno after Penn State won its first Big Ten title since 1994.

“We have to hope a couple of people lose a couple of their games, and maybe we can slip into the Rose Bowl,” Nittany Lions center E.Z. Smith said after Saturday’s win.

Just a few hours after Smith made that comment, Penn State caught its first break.

Miami, which was third in the BCS standings last week, lost 14-10 to Georgia Tech to knock the Hurricanes out of national title contention.

The Nittany Lions should also be keeping a close eye on the teams immediately behind them in the standings over the next two weeks.

Both fourth-place LSU (9-1) and fifth-place Virginia Tech (9-1) have one regular-season game and possibly a conference title game to play, giving each a shot to jump Penn State in the next two weeks.

The Tigers can clinch a spot in the Southeastern Conference championship by beating Arkansas at home Friday. Virginia Tech will play Florida State in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game if the Hokies beat North Carolina on Saturday.

LSU is already ahead of Penn State in the polls, but the Tigers trail in the Nittany Lions in the computers. LSU’s computer rating could get a nice boost with a win over Georgia in the SEC championship game on Dec. 3 in the Georgia Dome.

Ohio State is sixth, followed by Oregon, Notre Dame, Miami and Auburn.

Notre Dame needs to beat Stanford on Saturday to reach nine wins and become eligible for selection by either the Fiesta, Orange or Sugar bowls.

TCU is 13th and needs to be 12th in the final standings to even be eligible for BCS selection. Realistically, though, even if TCU breaks into the top 12 the Horned Frogs are a big long shot to be picked for one of the big-ticket bowl games.

AP-ES-11-21-05 1746EST


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