TAMPA, Florida (Ticker) -- Led by Tyler Palko's career day, No. 21 Pittsburgh completed its improbable push toward a Bowl Championship Series invite with a rout.
Palko threw for a career-high 411 yards and matched another career high with five touchdown passes to lead the Panthers to a 43-14 victory over future Big East Conference rival South Florida. The game was originally scheduled for September 4 but postponed due to the threat of Hurricane Frances.
With the victory, Pittsburgh (8-3) has virtually cliched a better BCS ranking than Syracuse, with both teams claiming a share of the Big East title based on tiebreakers. The Panthers are looking to participate in their first bowl game to be played on New Year's Day or later since losing to Ohio State, 28-23, in the Fiesta Bowl in 1984.
Palko connected on the first of three first-half touchdowns to Greg Lee just 4:35 beyond the opening kickoff, and linebacker Malcolm Postell returned an interception 15 yards for another score just 21 seconds later to provide the Panthers with a 13-0 lead.
Postell recorded two interceptions in the first half as Pittsburgh was the beneficiary of three turnovers in South Florida's first four possessions. Postell's second pick set up a six-yard touchdown catch by Lee, yielding a 22-0 lead.
The combination of Palko and Lee clicked eight times for 153 yards and the three scores. It was the first multi-touchdown receiving performance of Lee's career.
Clenton Crossley scored from one yard out on 4th-and-goal with 4:27 left in the third quarter to bring the Bulls (4-7) within 15 points at 29-14. It was Crossley's 21st career touchdown, breaking the school record previously held by Marquel Blackwell and Otis Dixon.
However, Palko fired two TD passes before the end of the quarter, including an 80-yard strike to Erik Gill, to give Pittsburgh its final margin. The victory avenged the Panthers' 35-26 setback on September 8, 2001 in the only previous meeting between the schools.
Running back Andre Hall rushed for 85 yards on 15 carries and threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to quarterback Pat Julmiste for the Bulls' first score with 4:59 left in the second quarter. Julmiste completed 12-of-22 passes for 130 yards for South Florida, which will leave Conference-USA in favor of the Big East beginning next season.