NCF Nation: 2010 Outback Bowl

The jokes started as soon as Urban Meyer announced he would step down as Florida head coach.

Who would have thought it would be Meyer retiring instead of Joe Paterno, his counterpart in the Outback Bowl?

Even Meyer made light of the situation several times this month. At a press conference earlier this month announcing his resignation, Meyer said, “If Coach Paterno would have stepped down at my age, it would have been 1972.”

Then at a news conference in Tampa earlier this week featuring both coaches, Meyer said, "I’ve put in my application as graduate assistant at Penn State. I can set up the cones really well and make a good pot of coffee.”

All jokes aside, the news that Meyer would be coaching his final game with the Gators put an entirely different spotlight on the Outback Bowl between Florida and Penn State on Saturday. You have Meyer, quitting at the peak of his career, going against a coach steadfast in his resolve that he will return to the Nittany Lions next season.

Indeed, Meyer was not the only one who had to answer questions about his future this week. With speculation picking up that the Outback Bowl could be his final game, Paterno had to reiterate once again that he has no plans to go anywhere.

“I’m different than Urban,” Paterno said. “I’ve got people calling up saying, ‘When the hell are you getting out?’ I’ve got a whole different slant on it. People think I’m going to quit this year or next year; I haven’t even thought of it.”

That has been left to everybody else it seems, considering Paterno cannot go a few weeks without having to answer the same question over and over again. But what Meyer did reinforces that coaching lifers like Paterno are the exception.

Meyer won two national championships with the Gators, and had success at Utah and Bowling Green in his previous stops. In his 10-year career, he went 103-23. But he worked himself to exhaustion, and the mounting pressure to win only made the situation worse. Those expectations are much different than they were when Paterno got into coaching.

Consider Meyer is 46. Paterno is 84.

“I personally am very sad to see guys like Urban get out of coaching,” Paterno said. “We’re losing sight of it. If we’re not careful, we’re only in it for entertainment for television. You take those television cameras and they dominate some of these things. … Hopefully we don’t diminish something that’s truly a great experience for kids.”

All the talk about the coaches has glossed over what could be a low-scoring affair. Neither program had the season they expected. Florida (7-5) had one of its worst seasons in 20 years because its offense never found its footing.

Meyer remained vague on how many quarterbacks would play against the Nittany Lions, but the Gators have used a three-quarterback rotation with John Brantley, Trey Burton and Jordan Reed to mixed results. Brantley had a disappointing season with nine touchdowns and nine interceptions, primarily because he was in an offense not suited for his strengths.

Though new coach Will Muschamp is already in place, Brantley has reiterated he doesn’t know whether he will return to Florida next season. A big factor in his decision will be who Muschamp brings in as offensive coordinator. Muschamp did say during his introductory news conference he wanted to run more of a pro-style offense, a much better fit for Brantley.

Penn State (7-5) also had questions at quarterback in a swirling controversy between Matt McGloin and Rob Bolden earlier in the season. Once the Nittany Lions settled on McGloin, things settled down as well. McGloin started the final six regular-season games and Penn State finished 4-2. He threw for 1,337 yards with 13 touchdown passes and just four interceptions.

Perhaps the Nittany Lions can take advantage of all the distractions surrounding Florida: Meyer is leaving, Brantley is undecided, offensive coordinator Steve Addazio has already taken a job as Temple head coach, and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin was briefly hospitalized this week with gastritis.

Or perhaps Florida will play inspired in Meyer’s farewell. Either way, Meyer has made himself the story of the game. No joke.
Penn State looked like the classic year-away team this season. Its 7-5 record bears that out.

[+] EnlargeMatt McGloin
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarPenn State quarterback Matt McGloin believes the team has a bright future.
The Lions displayed flashes of being better than average, but their flaws also showed up against ranked opponents. Penn State was a young team finding its identity, and the weeks leading up to the Outback Bowl could help the process of self discovery.

Some teams are what they are after the regular season and can do little to improve the product before a bowl. Penn State is the type of team that has a chance to make strides during bowl prep and show in the game what the future holds.

"You use the term springboard," quarterback Matt McGloin said. "What it can do is help us going into next year and get everybody’s mind-set going in the right direction. By beating a team like Florida, it really does put you on a different level going into the offseason and preparing for next year, so it would be a good win for us."

The sentiment is shared by coach Joe Paterno, who cited the team's youth and potential as primary reasons why he wants to return in 2011.

The Lions are planning start only seven seniors in the Outback Bowl against Florida. Although positions like offensive line and wide receiver lose several contributors to graduation, Penn State will return quite a few dynamic young players at the skill positions on both sides of the ball (Silas Redd, Devon Smith, Malcolm Willis).

"We've got about 60 kids here that are freshmen and sophomores," Paterno said last week. "Some of them are pretty good athletes that need some work. So I think in that sense, you're hoping that you can get some things developed that are going to carry over to next year."

To take the next step in the bowl game and beyond, Penn State must establish greater consistency.

"At times this year, we’ve played like we can beat anybody in the country," McGloin said. "But at times, we’ve been bad enough that we can be beat by anybody in the country. It's crucial for us to learn how to play a full football game and not take possessions off and quarters off."

McGloin cited Penn State's Nov. 13 loss to Ohio State as a good example. The Lions surged out to a 14-3 halftime lead before things unraveled in the second half as Ohio State scored 35 unanswered points.

"We came out firing, I think we got a little comfortable in the second half and before we knew it, we were down big and we couldn't come back," McGloin said.

Penn State seniors like guard Stefen Wisniewski recognize the potential on the team they'll leave behind after the bowl game. It creates even more incentive for Wisniewski to go out as a winner.

"It really helps build momentum for the next season," Wisniewski said, "so we really want to get this one on the national stage against a big-time program like Florida to leave our mark as seniors, leave on a positive note."

Stepping up in the bowls: Florida

December, 17, 2010
It's Urban Meyer's final game as the Florida head coach and the Gators' last chance to generate some positive vibes about an otherwise disappointing season.

A loss to Penn State in the Outback Bowl would give the Gators (7-5) six losses. The last time they suffered that many losses in a season was 1987.

Who's going to step up for the Gators?

Junior quarterback John Brantley: At this point, he's not completely sure that he will be back next season. Brantley still wants to talk it over with new coach Will Muschamp before making up his mind. Maybe this will be an audition of sorts for both player and coach, even though the Gators will still be running Meyer's offense. It's obvious by now that Brantley was never a fit in the spread offense, and this staff didn't do enough to mold the offense around what Brantley does best -- which is drop back and throw the football. We'll see if that changes for this game. Muschamp has already said that he plans on running more of a pro-style offense.

If Brantley does end up returning to Florida for his senior season, there would be no better way to go into an offseason with a new staff than to play his best football in the bowl game. A lot of the Florida fans have been calling for Jordan Reed at quarterback, but the Gators are going to need Brantley to hit some plays in the passing game to soften up that Penn State defense. It's been a forgettable season for Brantley, who was being hailed as one of the best quarterbacks in the league back in August even though he'd never played any meaningful snaps in the SEC. Here's his chance to finally live up to that billing and help his team enter the Muschamp era with some momentum.