- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Both Joe Paterno and Urban Meyer on Monday acknowledged the challenge of getting their teams prepared for a bowl after so-so seasons.
Paterno's Penn State team had back-to-back 11-win campaigns before slipping to 7-5 this season. Meyer's Florida Gators have won two national titles and a Sugar Bowl championship in the past four seasons but enter the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1 with the same ledger as the Nittany Lions.
While motivating the players could be tough, both coaches are excited to share the stage in Tampa.
"Urban's one of my favorite people in coaching," Paterno said on a teleconference Monday morning. "It's going to be exciting to play against him."
The feeling certainly is mutual.
"Coach Paterno is college football," Meyer said. "He's what it's all about."
Paterno and Meyer have spent time away from the field together with their wives, who are friends. Although Meyer was just a toddler when Paterno began his career as Penn State's head coach in 1966, the two men have formed a bond.
"He’s honest, he’s not one of those showoffs or anything like that," Paterno said. "He's very modest. He's got a great feel for the game. I've looked at a lot of the tapes of his games through the years because he seems to always be one step ahead of people he’s playing against. I like being around him. I enjoy visiting with him."
A few more notes from Paterno:
Linebacker Michael Mauti (shoulder) has been practicing and will return for the bowl game, Paterno said. Penn State still will be without 4-5 players because of injuries. Mauti had been playing very well before his injury against Ohio State, and his return provides a major jolt for the defense.
Paterno said bowl practices provide the opportunity for players to "be in situations where there's something on the line." Penn State will have some competition at several spots during the coming weeks, but quarterback isn't one of them. Paterno sounds pleased with sophomore Matt McGloin, who started Penn State's final three regular-season games. "Matt's our quarterback," Paterno said. "The other kid [Rob Bolden] has a lot of ability, but he's a true freshman in the truest sense of the word. ... I think we're alright at quarterback. Matt's done a good job for us."
Paterno reiterated that safety Andrew Dailey and defensive end Kevion Latham, both fourth-year juniors, will graduate and not return for a fifth season. Both players have found jobs and don't intend to pursue careers in football. Penn State might lose another player or two to the NFL draft. "It depends on whether some parents get involved with thinking their kids are a little better than they are," Paterno said.
Paterno thinks Florida best compares with Alabama in terms of opponents Penn State has faced this season. The big difference, Paterno said, is that Alabama had a more stable situation at quarterback than the Gators. But both teams are loaded with speed and athleticism. "I don’t think we can match their speed," Paterno said of the Gators. "We've got to be in good position, we can't miss tackles. We've got to play a good, solid football game, but always in the back of our head is the kind of speed they have."