Dec. 4, 2004
SportsLine.com wire reports
TAMPA, Fla. -- Tyler Palko threw for a career-high 411 yards and five touchdowns in three quarters Saturday, helping No. 19 Pittsburgh rout South Florida 43-14 and virtually assure the Panthers the Big East spot in the Bowl Championship Series.

Greg Lee scored on receptions of 18, 6 and 7 yards for Pitt (8-3), while Malcolm Postell returned one of his two interceptions 15 yards for a TD that gave his team a 13-0 lead less than five minutes into the game.

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Palko completed 19 of 28 passes and finished his afternoon by throwing for two scores in the last 1:27 of the third quarter.

Marcus Furman's 11-yard reception finished an eight-play, 93-yard drive, and Palko and 270-pound tight end Erik Gill teamed on an 80-yard TD play on the final play of the period.

The victory was the sixth in seven games for Pitt, which hardly resembled a BCS team in stumbling to 2-2 start that included an overtime victory over Division I-AA Furman and a 12-point loss at Connecticut.

The strong finish, however, gave the Panthers a share of the Big East title with Syracuse, Boston College and West Virginia and sets up a likely date against unbeaten Utah (11-0) in the Fiesta Bowl.

The Panthers also avenged an embarrassing loss to South Florida (4-7), which won the only other meeting between the schools 35-26 in just their second game as a Division I-A program three years ago.

Some Pitt players said that game provided extra motivation this time.

South Florida, which finished its final season as a member of Conference USA with a three-game losing streak, will move to the Big East next year and found out how difficult that transition could be.

Although the Bulls had plenty of success moving the ball, Pat Julmiste was intercepted twice and Pitt also forced two fumbles to stop scoring threats. The Panthers also stopped another march inside their 20 on downs.

Julmiste scored South Florida's first touchdown on a trick play, catching a 16-yard TD pass from Andre Hall after the 1,300-yard rusher took a pitchout and faked a handoff to receiver S.J. Green on an end-around.

Clenton Crossley also scored on a 1-yard run for the Bulls.

Lee finished with eight receptions for 153 yards, giving him 61 catches for 1,204 yards and nine touchdowns this season. The 300-yard performance by Palko was the sophomore's fifth of the year.

The last time Pitt won at least eight games three consecutive seasons was 1981-83. The Panthers are headed to a bowl for the fifth straight year, but haven't played on New Year's Day or later since concluding the 1983 season in the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State.

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