Joe Paterno said it was 23 degrees when he woke up Monday in State College, so you can't blame him for his eagerness to head south to prepare for the Outback Bowl matchup against Florida on New Year's Day.

But the warmer climate in the Tampa Bay area is only a small part of it. Coaches love bowl games because it gives them extra practice days to work with young players, and Paterno can't wait to work with the underclassmen away from the distractions of home.

"You have some kids that have to compete," Paterno said Monday during a conference call that included Gators coach Urban Meyer. "You have to be in situations where there's something on the line. You've got to find out which kids like to play, and they're not looking over their shoulder to see if there's an agent involved or whether they're going to carry the ball X number of times or they're getting enough ink.

"So this is an opportunity to take a bunch of kids away. They're not home, they don't have girlfriends around. . . . It's for us to go and to work hard, particularly with our younger kids, and see if we can make them better."

The Nittany Lions finished with a 7-5 record and tied for fourth place in the Big Ten. Even though his team lost two of its last three games, Paterno said he felt the Lions are "getting better all the time, and at times it looks like we can play with people."

The coach also indicated the quarterback position would not be open for competition, saying, "I think Matt's our quarterback."

That would be redshirt sophomore Matt McGloin, who led the Lions to four wins in the final six regular-season games, starting four and coming on in relief of freshman Rob Bolden in two. McGloin finished the season with back-to-back 300-yard passing games, the first Penn State player ever to do that.

"I think we're all right at quarterback," Paterno said. "We're not great. We had problems with our offensive line early and we're getting a little bit better. But I think Mac's done a good job for us."

Meyer has his own quarterback issues with the Gators (7-5), but Florida's problem is sure to provide confusion in Penn State's preparation. Florida has used conventional drop-back passer John Brantley, true freshman Trey Burton, who scored six touchdowns against Kentucky, and redshirt freshman Jordan Reed, a converted tight end.

"I can't tell you on this day what exactly what we'll do in this bowl game," said Meyer, who lamented that "this has been a very down year for us" on offense, where they are 79th nationally in total yards.

Paterno said the area that concerns him most is the Gators' speed. He said they were similar to Alabama, which walloped the Nittany Lions, 24-3, in the season's second game.

"I don't think we can match their speed," he said. "Obviously, we're going to have 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 your head is the kind of speed that they have."

The concern is the same as it was last year, when the Lions played LSU in the Capital One Bowl. But a pregame deluge left the field slick and muddy, negating the Tigers' speed and helping Penn State to a 19-17 victory.

"The good Lord took care of us," Paterno said. "Now if I can get it to rain and the field could get nice and sloppy . . ."

Nittany Notes. Paterno said he admires Meyer as an innovator, noting that he "seems to always be one step ahead of the people he's playing against." He also said he and his wife have socialized with the Florida coach and his wife on occasion and that "I like being around him." . . . The coach said linebacker Michael Mauti, who missed the last two games with a shoulder injury, has practiced and should be all right to play against Florida. . . . Paterno indicated his team will head to Florida early to hold several practices before bowl week arrives. "It's tough for us to get outside," Paterno said. "We have a great indoor facility but that's still not the same as being outside and working on your passing game and kicking game and things like that."

Contact staff writer Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or jjuliano@phillynews.com.