DALLAS - Penn State spent almost an entire month before the start of the 2011 season uncertain as to the identity of its starting quarterback for its opener, a routine that continued for the next eight games.

And for the two weeks since Matt McGloin suffered a concussion in a locker-room altercation with wide receiver Curtis Drake, the same quarterback questions had been true for the Nittany Lions going into Monday's TicketCity Bowl contest against Houston.

But McGloin never was cleared to practice by team doctors during those two weeks. The Lions' final full practice Saturday had Rob Bolden again running the first-team offense, meaning the sophomore from suburban Detroit will be the starting quarterback against the Cougars at the Cotton Bowl.

Interim head coach Tom Bradley confirmed the move in a very brief chat with a few reporters. He was not available for further comment, but will participate in a pre-bowl news conference on Sunday.

The situation is fraught with irony, and not just because Penn State ended the season with the same doubts at the position it had for most of the season.

Bolden rode the bench for the entire Outback Bowl a year ago, watching as McGloin threw five interceptions in a 37-24 loss to Florida. Within a week, Bolden wanted to transfer and his family requested a release from Joe Paterno, but the former head coach refused to grant one.

This year, Paterno did not designate a starter publicly during game week for the nine games he coached prior to his Nov. 9 firing. Bolden started the first seven with McGloin coming off the bench. McGloin started the last five contests but Bolden only saw meaningful action in one - Oct. 29 against Illinois.

Now Bolden, who has completed just 42 percent of his passes while throwing for one touchdown with four interceptions, has a chance to end Penn State's tumultuous season on a winning note and impress, via tape, whoever the next head coach will be.

"Hopefully, I can take advantage of the opportunity," Bolden said. "I don't think I'll be rusty at all. I've been going up against our defense, which is one of the best in the country. Going against them has definitely helped me out. This is a chance for me to prove myself."

Offensive tackle Quinn Barham said he feels the team will rally behind Bolden.

"Rob has done a great job in practice and he's going to continue to do a great job on Monday," he said. "We have faith in him. He's grown, I think, in the practices we've had down here and at school before we left. I'm very proud of him."

The loss of McGloin, however, leaves the team thin behind Bolden. Should something happen to the starter, the Lions would turn to redshirt junior Shane McGregor, who saw mop-up action in two nonconference games and completed just 1 of 4 passes.

The 6-foot-1, 198-pound McGregor said he's excited about his opportunity.

"It's pretty cool," he said. "I thought I'd actually be a little more nervous. But I prepared and I trust that preparation and I think I'll be fine if I have to get in there."

Bradley also has one fewer quarterback to run his Wildcat plays with Drake having stayed home by mutual agreement. That would leave freshman wide receiver Bill Belton, a former star at Winslow Township High, running that part of the attack.

McGloin was not made available Saturday for interviews. Wide receiver Justin Brown said McGloin was helping Bolden and the offense however he could.

"He's around the quarterbacks, listening to the plays, still being real active with the team," Brown said. "He might be a little down but that's just because he's a competitor. He wants to play. That would be like anybody. But at the same time, he's still supporting us, helping Rob out with reads, so he's still into it."

Bolden also will be aided by the fact that sophomore running back Silas Redd, who rushed for 1,188 yards despite missing much of the last three games with a clavicle injury, is 100 percent healthy. The Lions hope their running game can control the football and keep it away from Case Keenum and the potent Houston offense.

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