PASADENA, Calif. - Overwhelming from the start, Southern California put on a championship performance. Too bad for the Trojans, they weren't playing for the national title.
Mark Sanchez passed for 413 yards and four touchdowns, USC dominated on defense and the fifth-ranked Trojans beat up No. 6 Penn State 38-24 Thursday in the Rose Bowl.
Penn State coach Joe Paterno watched from the press box, where he's been for most of the season because of hip problems. He couldn't have liked what he saw. At one point in the first half, the TV camera caught him shaking his head as USC (12-1) rolled to a 31-7 lead.
But even before the game, the 82-year-old coach said several times he thought USC was at least as good as any team in the country, perhaps better.
"With all due respect, those are two great programs, I don't think anybody can beat the Trojans," USC coach Pete Carroll said. "I just think we can beat anyone we played. That's happened a lot to us late in the season. This is a terrific finishing program. There are so many things we can do. We're just hard to beat right now."
USC scored four touchdowns and a field goal on five consecutive first-half possessions for a 24-point halftime lead against a team that allowed only 12 points a game during the regular season. With the No. 1 defense in the nation, there was no way the Trojans would blow that kind of lead.
The Nittany Lions (11-2) scored 17 points in the fourth quarter to make the final score respectable, yet fell far short of their 40.2-point average.
Paterno, who has won 383 games, including 23 bowls, both records, thought the Trojans were every bit as good as advertised. USC won 10 straight after losing to Oregon State.
"I thought that we were playing against the best and I thought we had to play our best to be competitive," Paterno said. "In the first half, we just did the dumb things that we have not done all year. We didn't play our game in the first half, but we came back and we hung in there. So we have nothing to be ashamed of."
USC finished with 27 first downs and 474 yards of total offense.
Sanchez, who completed 28-of-35 passes without being intercepted and finished the season with 3,207passing yards and 34 touchdown throws, might have played his final game for USC. The strong-armed junior has said he will consider making himself available for the NFL draft. Sanchez became the third player to pass for more than 400 yards in the Rose Bowl.
Daryll Clark completed 21-of-36 passes for 273 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions. Evan Royster, who averaged 6.5 yards per carry in gaining 1,202 yards during the regular season, came out with an injured left knee in the first quarter after picking up 34 yards on six carries.
Carroll's Trojans have won seven straight conference championships and played in seven consecutive BCS bowls, both records. They're 6-1 in big games, 5-0 against Big Ten teams such as Penn State, and 82-9 since 2002, Carroll's second year on the job.
They've also won 11 or more games in seven straight seasons, another record.
The Trojans have played in a record-tying four straight Rose Bowls, winning three straight since losing to Texas 41-38 with the national title on the line. They became the first team ever to win three consecutive Rose Bowls.