TAMPA, Fla. - The record book will count the Outback Bowl as the final game of the 2010 season, but in reality, it's truly the opener of the 2011 campaign.
Especially for quarterback Matt McGloin.
Summoned at midseason, the former walk-on rescued the Nittany Lions from what was heading toward a sub-.500 season by injecting a confidence, a direction and a competitiveness previously lacking.
That is not a knock on Rob Bolden, who showed flashes of potential but showed why true freshmen quarterbacks, even decorated recruits, rarely succeed immediately at the high Division I level.
"Matt knew the players, and the players knew him," offensive coordinator Galen Hall said. "Matt is a confident kid. He was that way from the minute he stepped in. He just needed a chance."
McGloin got that when Bolden was knocked out of the Minnesota game with a concussion. Though the two ended up with equal completion percentages of 58.0, McGloin gave the Nittany Lions a vertical passing game that resulted in 13 touchdown passes (to Bolden's five) against four interceptions (to Bolden's seven).
Bowl preparation is split between future development and trying to enter the offseason on a positive note, and when McGloin was asked if the quarterback job will be his next year, he only smiled, and said, "winning Saturday would have a lot to do with it. All I know is it's my job Saturday, and it's my job to put up a W."
Even if that happens, McGloin expects a challenge from Bolden and Paul Jones in the spring. Hall agreed, saying he expects the job to be open.
"I think competition's great," he said. "[Walk-on] Shane McGregor's another walk-on kid that plays well in practice. Competition is important, and if you don't have it, you probably need it at this level. This will probably be one of the most competitive springs we've had in a long time in terms of positions open."
Top receiver Derek Moye expects another quarterback derby.
"I would say Matt has an edge, but it's got to be open competition because technically Rob didn't do anything to lose the position," he said. "I think he'll definitely have a shot at it. I think all three will be great options. We found out late in the season that McGloin was the quarterback who fit the characteristics of the team. Hopefully we can find that out earlier in the  season."
Several in the PSU camp say the Lions have practiced extremely well here. They've been here since Dec. 19 so part of the challenge will be to peak against the Gators.
"At times we've shown greatness and the type of team we're capable of being," McGloin said. "The past week and a half we've come together, stepped up and played great football. I'm anxious to see if we're able to do that Saturday. Yesterday's practice [Tuesday] was phenomenal. We had great tempo. Guys wanted to be out there and were really anxious to get better."
Though he has two seasons of eligibility left, McGloin is comfortable as a vocal leader because it's his personality and because the position requires it.
"Each week you grow," he said. "I understand I'm only a sophomore, and there are guys ahead of me but as a quarterback you have to assume a leadership role and guys have responded well. If we're able to pull this [game] out, it will be a great stepping stone that could lead us into the offseason."
Joe Paterno admitted after the regular season that this season fell a couple of games short of his expectations. Those expectations, according to McGloin, will be much higher in 2011.
"Next year," he said, "we're going to be very tough to beat."
Beating Florida - even an average Gator team - would be a good start.
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or email@example.com.