TAMPA -- New Year, new state, new skeptics to convince.
All of which is beginning to get a bit old for Matt McGloin, Penn State's redshirt sophomore quarterback who must feel as if he has to continually prove himself until he runs out of the tunnel at Beaver Stadium for Senior Day in the final home game of the 2012 season.
How many 300-yard passing days will it take to prove he's not some flash-in-the-pan who stumbled into a starting role and got lucky? How many touchdown passes will finally assuage the remaining doubters? How often must he explain what it was like to go unrecruited by any Football Bowl Subdivision school, including the one he now represents?
At the final news conference here for the Outback Bowl, McGloin - by now familiar to Penn State beat writers - answered questions about how he planned to probe Florida's speedy defense. But all those reporters and television crews representing Florida media outlets … they were something else. To them, McGloin's longshot tale of rising from the bottom of the depth chart as a walk-on was as fresh as the dawning of 2011 figures to be. So McGloin patiently fielded many of the same queries he thought he had put behind him when he demonstrated to the folks back home that, yes, he can indeed play this game at a pretty high level.
As the first Penn State quarterback ever to pass for 300 or more yards in back-to-back games (which he did in the final two contests of the regular season, against Indiana and Michigan State), hasn't McGloin ripped that scarlet letter from his chest, the one that identifies as him as a player who had to pay his own way and plead for a chance to be a part of the real players' club? Hasn't he revealed that he's got way more talent than Rudy Ruettiger, the too-small, too-slow kid from nowhere who made a cameo game appearance for Notre Dame and rode it into a tear-jerking movie about his life?
Asked, by a Pennsylvania reporter, if the constant retelling of his rise to semi-stardom to the Florida guys was just a bit irritating, McGloin conceded that it was.
"I hope I've put that [his walk-on past] behind me," the Scranton native responded. "I really don't want to keep talking about it. I am proud of what I did and where I came from. But I think I've moved past that, and I wish other people would agree.
"I'm a hard worker. I worked so hard, I worked myself right into the starting lineup. That wouldn't have happened if I believed all the negative things some people thought of me. It wouldn't have happened if I hadn't stayed mentally focused and continued to prepare myself as if I was the starter. I did all that when I was, like, fourth or fifth on the depth chart. I believed in myself when not many other people did."
But for all of McGloin's confidence - his teammates say he carries himself with the confidence of a Heisman Trophy winner, and did even when he was a scout-squad nobody - the 6-1, 209-pounder sometimes still acts like a kid who has snuck into the candy store and can't believe all the goodies that are his for the taking.
"People are stopping me in restaurants [in Scranton and State College, anyway]," McGloin said with just a trace of wonderment. "They ask for autographs, they ask to take pictures with me. It really is exciting. A lot more people recognize you when you're a starter."
But the best part of his emergence as a key figure for the Nittany Lions is the increasing number of No. 11 jerseys that are being worn by Penn State fans, some of which will turn up in the stands at Raymond James Stadium on Saturday for the Outback Bowl against Florida. There is no greater proof that you've made it than for your jersey to become part of the fans' seasonal ensembles.
"I'd be lying if I said I didn't check it out when I went downtown [in State College]," McGloin said of the stores that stock Penn State apparel. "Who wouldn't want to see somebody wearing his jersey? It's cool. I do look at stuff like that. A lot of guys wouldn't admit it, but I do?"
So how many No. 11s has he seen fans decked out in recently?
"I've seen a few," McGloin said. "But I've seen a lot more 22s [the number of Penn State career rushing leader Evan Royster]."
McGloin hasn't made it so much that No. 11 is his alone - he shares it with freshman linebacker Khairi Fortt. A cynic might even say that some of those No. 11s weren't purchased by McGloin fans, but are holdovers from when the number was worn by standout linebacker Navorro Bowman, now a rookie with the San Francisco 49ers.
In any case, McGloin is not so firmly entrenched that he can expect a lock on the starting QB job for next season and beyond. Although he apparently has repelled a challenge from the player who had been projected as the starter going into this season, sophomore Kevin Newsome, who fell to third on the depth chart, did not make the trip here and is likely to transfer, McGloin will have to contend in spring practice with Rob Bolden, who started eight games as a true freshman, and highly regarded Paul Jones, another true freshman who redshirted this year.
When you're a quarterback, the name of the game always is, "What have you done for us lately?" Even if he sparks Penn State past the favored Gators, another impressive performance won't necessarily etch McGloin's first-team status in granite any more than his walk-on past doomed him to a career as practice-field fodder.
If further proof is required of the fickle nature of his all-important position, McGloin need look no further than across the field, where Florida's John Brantley's up-and-down career could soon be coming full circle.
Brantley, a former five-star recruit, is the son of a former Gators quarterback, John Brantley III, and the nephew of Scot Brantley, an All-Southeastern Conference linebacker in the late 1970s. John IV put on his first Florida replica uniform when he was only 3 and has wanted to play for his favorite school ever since. But, faced with the prospect of backing up Tim Tebow for at least two seasons, he originally committed to Texas before following his heart to Gainesville.
Finally a starter this year as a junior, Brantley, a classic dropback passer, struggled in Florida's spread-option offense and eventually lost playing time to more mobile freshmen Trey Burton and Jordan Reed. He considered transferring, but then coach Urban Meyer resigned. He'll be succeeded by Will Muschamp, who not was most recently the Texas defensive coordinator, but is a proponent of the pro-style offense in which Brantley's strengths should be better showcased.