STATE COLLEGE - It is reflective of the constant, overwhelming interest in the quarterback position that Penn State coach Joe Paterno spent more time yesterday discussing the bruised feelings of his third-stringer than he did on the impending departure of his highly successful coaching counterpart, Florida's Urban Meyer, following their teams' Jan. 1 Outback Bowl matchup in Tampa, Fla.
Meyer, 46, whose Gators won national championships in 2006 and 2008, dropped a bombshell Wednesday when he announced he would step down after the Outback Bowl to spend more time with his family.
Considering that there had been widespread speculation that it would be Paterno - who turns 84 on Dec. 21 - making his final appearance on New Year's Day, Meyer's surprise disclosure essentially rewrote that script. JoePa, who has another year on the 3-year contract extension he signed in 2008, revealed on Nov. 23 he would return in for his 46th season as the Nittany Lions' field leader.
During Penn State's Outback Bowl media day at the Lasch Football Building, Paterno described Meyer as "one of the great coaches of the last 25 years" and an innovator whose teams generally find a way "to control the tempo and the way the game is going to be played."
"I have a tremendous respect for him," Paterno continued. "If he wants to do what he's doing, I think he's entitled. He's a good family man. He's making some decisions that I'm sure are not easy. But he's making them. I admire and respect him for what he's doing."
It is unlikely to benefit Penn State in this pairing of up-and-down 7-5 teams that the Gators will be jacked up to give their coach a nice going-away present.
"With Urban leaving, that's going to add to the whole business," Paterno said. "Their kids are going to win that football game not only for the reasons you would expect, but because they want to send Urban off on the right foot."
Having offered his thoughts on Meyer, Paterno spoke even more expansively on the dissatisfaction of sophomore backup quarterback Kevin Newsome, a four-star recruit in 2009 who has slid to third on the depth chart behind redshirt soph Matt McGloin and true freshman Rob Bolden.
"Kevin and I talked [last Friday]," Paterno said. "He's very anxious to play. But nobody can guarantee anything, particularly at that position.
"I'm trying to make sure he gets an honest shot at being the quarterback. Jay [Paterno, the quarterbacks coach] likes the kid. We think he's a fine prospect. But having said that, at this stage he's not as quite far along as the other two. It's a tough call for us, and a tough call for him, because he wants to play. He doesn't particularly want to wait forever."
Paterno advised Newsome to "suck it up for now" and wait until spring practice, after which they could sit down and "decide on what kind of future he may have at Penn State as a football player." But Newsome could force the issue before then, perhaps at another meeting with Paterno that is scheduled shortly after players finish taking their final exams.
Should Newsome indicate his intention to transfer to another school during that meeting, he might not be allowed to travel with the team to Tampa. Such a scenario played out before the 2009 Rose Bowl game, when Paterno told backup quarterback Pat Devlin he wouldn't be making the trip to Pasadena, Calif. Devlin, who undoubtedly would have been the main man under center this season as a fifth-year senior, transferred to Delaware, where he became a 2-year starter.
But if Newsome is the loser in Penn State's annual version of quarterback musical chairs, the winner, at least for now, is McGloin, the former walk-on from Scranton who was the scout-team operative in 2008 with seemingly little hope of ever rising to the top spot.
McGloin became the first passer in school history to post back-to-back 300-yard games, against Indiana and Michigan State, which is notable enough, but it isn't his statistics, size, speed or arm strength that stamped him as the quarterback of the present and maybe the future. It's his moxie.
Asked whether McGloin's midseason emergence made him the Lions' most valuable player, All-America guard Stefen Wisniewski considered the question for a moment and said, "I would agree with that."
Junior wide receiver Derek Moye agreed.
"Matt's not scared at all to get up in someone's face and let them know it's his huddle and that he's in control," Moye said. "I think that's one of his greatest assets. He's a leader. With him in the huddle, we have a little more energy out there."
So why are so many Penn State partisans questioning whether the starting job will be his next season, when he'll have to fend off challenges from Bolden, redshirted freshman Paul Jones and, if he doesn't ship out, Newsome?
"If the coaches decide to open up the competition, there's really nothing I can do about it," McGloin said. "All I can do is continue to progress as a quarterback and play the way I have been playing. If they decide to stick with me, that's fine. If they don't, I'll accept my role, whatever it is.
"But I feel this is my team now. I'm more vocal at practice. Guys are responding."
Junior wideout Derek Moye filed papers with the NFL about possibly coming out for the April draft. "I just want to get a feel for things I need to work on and what [the pros'] perception of me is," he said. "There's a chance I'm going to go" . . . Junior safety Drew Astorino on who's faster, Florida running back Jeffrey Demps or Penn State receiver Devon Smith: "It's Devon. He's the fastest player I've ever seen. You try to man-up on 'Moo Moo' [Smith's nickname] and it's one of the hardest things you'll ever do" . . . Punter Anthony Fera, who missed the last two regular-season games after undergoing an appendectomy on Nov. 17, might be medically cleared to play . . . School career rushing leader Evan Royster needs 84 yards for his third consecutive 1,000-yard season, but he said, "It's not a big concern of mine. If it happens, it'll be something I can look back on and think it's cool. But it's not that big a deal." *