When Matt McGloin began the 2010 season as Penn State's third-string quarterback, he could not have imagined how rapidly his stature on the team would grow.
After taking one snap from center in the first six games, McGloin seized his opportunity in Game 7 at Minnesota when freshman starter Rob Bolden went down with a concussion, and since then life hasn't been the same for the former walk-on.
After what started out as a season of struggle for the Nittany Lions, the third-year sophomore from Scranton led a turnaround that carried Penn State to four wins in its final six games and a berth in Saturday's Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla. Given the combination of performance, confidence, and leadership that helped save the season, a case could be made for McGloin as team MVP.
But fame can be fleeting. The Nittany Lions (7-5) will convene in a few months for spring practice and folks wonder whether McGloin will enter as the solid No. 1 quarterback, or if Joe Paterno will open up the competition with two, and perhaps three, contenders in the wings.
For his part, McGloin said he's not worried about it.
"People are talking about if there's going to be a competition in the spring or what we're going to be doing next year," he said before the Lions left for Florida. "I don't think people realize we have one more football game left to play. That's what we're focused on.
"We're not focused on what type of team we're going to be next year. We're focused on Florida and what they're going to be doing against us. I think people don't realize that we're not really thinking about the future as much as we're thinking about the present right now."
McGloin completed 58 percent of his passes for 1,337 yards and 13 touchdowns. He threw for more than 300 yards in his last two games, becoming the first Penn State quarterback to record back-to-back 300-yard contests.
McGloin's most impressive performance came off the bench. After relieving Bolden against Northwestern, he rallied Penn State from a 21-0 deficit to a 35-21 win that provided Paterno with his 400th career victory.
His teammates said there's more to his success than numbers.
"He's a great guy," offensive tackle Quinn Barham said. "I think that's what makes him a great player as well. He makes the game fun. If we're having a bad day of school, it's guys like him that bring inspiration to us at practice and make us want to play football again."
Wide receiver Derek Moye, who caught 20 passes in his last four games, said McGloin exudes confidence.
"He's not scared at all," Moye said. "He lets us know it's his huddle. With him in the huddle, I think maybe it gives us a little more energy out there, and it rubs off on the defense as well."
This week's practices for the bowl will be a lot different for McGloin than they were a year ago. He said he took reps "here and there" behind Daryll Clark and Kevin Newsome preparing for last season's Capital One Bowl.
This year, however, he said being the starter means he must have "a different type of mentality . . . a need to be focused at all times."
"It's a lot better because you're more relaxed," he said. "You don't need to be looking over your shoulder. I'm not saying that I do but in the back of your mind, you're thinking about it. But it does feel good. I can focus on film, practice, and preparing myself as well as getting my team ready to play Florida."
The attention directed to McGloin has risen dramatically. He is recognized on campus and around town in State College. He even has peeked inside of some Penn State apparel stores to see if his No. 11 jersey is being sold.
"It's cool," he said. "I do look at stuff like that. A lot of people won't admit it - but who wouldn't look, right?"
McGloin would not only like to see his team end the season Saturday with a victory, but he also wants to see the Lions put together 60 minutes of solid football, an accomplishment that has eluded them this season.
And once it's over, that's when he'll start worrying about the 2011 season, not before.
"If the coaches decide to open up the competition, really there's nothing I can do about it," he said. "All I can do is continue to progress as a quarterback and play the way I've been playing. If they decide to stick with me, that's fine. If they don't, I'll accept my role, whatever it is."