LOS ANGELES - In State College, Pa., the most popular players among fans sometimes are the backup quarterbacks.

But there aren't many Nittany Lions followers who want to see the new backup on the field when Penn State meets Southern Cal tomorrow in the Rose Bowl.

When Pat Devlin transferred this month, Paul Cianciolo was promoted from the third team to the second team. But the fifth-year senior has hardly played during his career, and if starter Daryll Clark gets injured, an untested quarterback will be placed in a very difficult spot.

"Pat leaving was definitely surprising, especially the timing," Cianciolo said yesterday. "But I'm happy to have the opportunity. I'm a play away instead of two. . . . Obviously, me playing would be predicated on Daryll going down."

Coach Joe Paterno has been publicly backing Cianciolo since the end of last season, when the position opened. Whenever someone would ask about the competition between Clark and Devlin, Paterno would make sure to include the 6-foot-4, 219-pound graduate student from Charleston, S.C.

"Having Joe Paterno championing your cause - he's the one you want backing your cause, if there's only one guy," Cianciolo said.

Penn State offensive coordinator Galen Hall has said that Cianciolo can run the same offense as Clark and that the playbook does not need to be adjusted for the reserve.

"I try not to focus on things that would be different from Daryll," Cianciolo said. "We have a lot of playmakers around . . . and we have an experienced line in front of us, so all we're really needed to do is manage the game well and make good, sound decisions."

Punch line

There isn't a situation

Rich Ohrnberger

can't joke about - even his recent demotion.

The Penn State senior guard, center A.Q. Shipley, and defensive end Aaron Maybin recently were demoted to the second team after they were tardy for a few team functions. They have since returned to their starting positions.

Ohrnberger, an all-Big Ten Conference first-team guard, was late for a breakfast.

"You know how it is - late-night infomercials," he said. "It's an old addiction. I'm still trying to kick it."

Ohrnberger disputed a claim by his teammates that he was just resting up for Lawry's Beef Bowl, a Rose Bowl tradition in which teammates compete to eat at Lawry's - The Prime Rib in Beverly Hills . He claimed he won the contest.

"The kitchen cut me off," Ohrnberger said. "I had four prime ribs and I was moving onto No. 5. They gave me the Roberto Duran back there - 'No mas. Get this kid out of there.' "

On Monday night, the Lions attended The Improv comedy club. Ohrnberger opened before four comics went on.

"I was great," he said.