The grumbling among the dissidents in Nittany Nation may persist against Joe Paterno, but they have to agree on one thing: The soon-to-be-84-year-old Penn State head coach has still got it.

Although the Nittany Lions finished 7-5 and lost to the two teams - Iowa and Illinois - that tied with them for fourth place in the Big Ten, they received the nod from the Outback Bowl and will take on Florida on Jan. 1 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.

The Outback, which will pay out $3.4 million per team, had the second pick behind the Capital One Bowl after the Big Ten's two BCS teams - Wisconsin (Rose) and Ohio State (Sugar) - had been set. But it passed on the Hawkeyes, who were ranked for most of the season but lost their last three games, and the Fighting Illini, who embarrassed the Nittany Lions at Beaver Stadium, after Michigan State was tabbed for the Capital One.

Instead, the Outback went for Paterno, who won his 400th career game last month and recently announced his return for 2011, his 46th season. He is the all-time leader in bowl appearances (this will be his 37th) and wins (24).

The Lions endured injuries at key positions and inexperience in a rather disappointing regular season that saw them lose two of their last three games. But Paterno was pleased that they'll have an opportunity to play in a bowl.

"This team has worked hard all season and has been a great group to work with," Paterno said in a statement. "I'm happy for the squad that their efforts will be rewarded with an opportunity to go to the Outback Bowl, where we have had some wonderful experiences, and be involved in a good, tough game."

The Gators (7-5), who are in the postseason for the 20th consecutive year, also had a subpar season with injuries and an ineffective offense. Still, Florida has the nation's fourth-best record over the last six years, which includes the 2006 and 2008 national championships, and a big-name coach in Urban Meyer.

This marquee matchup appeared to be headed for the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville. But the Outback Bowl, which had its selection of teams immediately before the Gator, figured "Why not us?" and took Florida ahead of South Carolina and Mississippi State, two teams that defeated the Gators in 2010.

"When you talk about tradition and history of college football, it just doesn't get any better than Penn State and the University of Florida," said Jim McVay, president of the Outback Bowl. "It's our 25th anniversary game and we can't think of a better way to celebrate it . . . than with Coach Paterno's Nittany Lions and coach Urban Meyer's Gators."

This will be Penn State's fourth appearance in the Outback Bowl and first since it defeated Tennessee, 20-10, on Jan. 1, 2007.

The Nittany Lions have faced the Gators in two bowls and are 0-2 against them. They lost by 17-7 in the 1962 Gator Bowl and by 21-6 in the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1, 1998.

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