The Sports Network
By Frank Haynes, Senior College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: Traditional national powers square off in the 25th Outback Bowl, as the Florida Gators take on the Penn State Nittany Lions from Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.
The Outback Bowl is the only 2010-11 bowl game featuring two head coaches who have won a national championship, with Penn State's Joe Paterno and Florida's Urban Meyer earning two national titles apiece.
While both teams have certainly had their share of memorable seasons, this hasn't been one of them as each comes into this clash sporting a 7-5 record. Both also went 4-4 in their respective conferences -- Florida in the SEC and Penn State in the Big Ten.
The Gators, who are playing their final game under Meyer's watchful eye, lost two of their final three games of the regular season, the lone win in that span coming against FCS foe Appalachian State. UF hasn't beaten a FBS opponent since whipping Vanderbilt (55-14) back on November 6th.
Florida is making its fourth appearance in the Outback Bowl, the last of which occurred in 2005 and resulted in a 31-24 victory over Iowa -- that being Meyer's first season. Overall, the Gators are 18-19 all-time in bowl games, but they have won six of their last seven. They are 4-1 in bowl games under Meyer, who will hand over the reins to former Texas Defensive Coordinator Will Muschamp following this contest.
Penn State enters the contest having lost two of its final three games of the regular season, including a 28-22 decision at home to Michigan State on November 27th. Prior to that stretch, the Lions had reeled off three straight wins, two of which took place in Happy Valley.
The Nittany Lions are playing in their 37th bowl game under Paterno, who is the all-time leader in bowl wins (24) and appearances. Paterno's team is appearing in its 25th New Year's bowl game, having compiled a stellar 17-7 mark. Penn State is 3-0 in the Outback Bowl, beating Tennessee in the 2007 version in its last appearance.
Florida is 2-0 all-time against Penn State, with the first meeting coming in the 1962 Gator Bowl (17-7), and the last in the 1997 Citrus Bowl (21-6).
Gator fans knew the post-Tebow era wasn't going to be pretty, but the Florida offense wasn't terrible in 2010, averaging just shy of 30 ppg on average yardage outputs of 165.6 ypg rushing and 191.2 ypg passing. John Brantley did his best to fill the huge shoes of his legendary predecessor, completing 61.4 percent of his passes for 2,020 yards. Unfortunately, he threw only nine TDs against nine INTs. Deonte Thompson was the team's leading receiver with 36 grabs for 548 yards, but he only reached the end zone once.
The UF ground attack is led by Jeffery Demps with his 531 yards on 89 carries, although Trey Burton was the most efficient of the rushers, scoring 11 times on 73 attempts.
Florida's defensive effort is what kept the team in most of its games, as foes were permitted 21.1 ppg on 129.9 ypg on the ground and another 173.0 ypg through the air. The Gators did surrender 16 passing scores and a dozen more via the run, but foes scored TDs on just 53 percent of their trips to the red zone. Playing solidly to open most tilts, the UF defense gave up an average of only 3.4 ppg in the first quarter. That figure doubled in the second quarter.
Ahmad Black was Florida's most active defender during the regular season, logging an impressive 102 tackles, 68 of which were unassisted. He also finished with 10 TFLs, three INTs and a pair of fumble recoveries. Jelani Jenkins is next with 73 stops, while Janoris Jenkins also came up with three picks while 73 percent of his total tackles were solo efforts.
Meyer, while excited about leading his team one final time, has been a staunch supporter of what the University of Florida did in hiring Muschamp, "The guy we hired is fantastic. I think that eased a lot of the burden because the first priority is the players and the coaches. I've really enjoyed these last two weeks."
He continued, "If there's ever a good time [to resign] -- obviously I don't know that there ever is -- but this kind of worked out very well."
The Penn State offense has seen better days as well, but the unit isn't totally devoid of talent as the school's all-time leading rusher, Evan Royster, prepares for his final game as a Nittany Lion. Royster carried the ball 188 times this season, producing 916 yards and six TDs for a Penn State team that averages 142.8 ypg on the ground and has scored 14 rushing TDs.
The PSU aerial attack accounts for 231.2 ypg, with Matt McGloin, having been given the keys to the ship midway through the season, hitting 58 percent of his passes for 1,337 yards with 13 TDs and only four INTs. Rob Bolden earned the starting QB job in the summer, but threw just five TD passes while being picked off seven times. Derek Moye is Penn State's top receiver with 48 grabs for 806 yards and seven scores, while Brett Barrett is next with 37 receptions for 497 yards and five TDs.
Long a staple of how Penn State conducts its business, the Nittany Lion defense had an up-and-down season by yielding 22.6 ppg on typical yardage gains of 164.6 per game on the ground and 187.9 per outing by way of the pass. A total of 19 passing scores were surrendered by the unit, which was solid on third-down conversion attempts (.320), but allowed an unsightly 94 percent (30-of-32) of red-zone visits by the opposition to result in points.
Linebacker U. had another solid one this year as Chris Colasanti tallied 102 tackles, while Nate Stupar and D'Anton Lynn came in next with 72 and 71 stops, respectively. Nick Sukay collected three of the team's nine INTs, while the team as a whole was credited with just 16 sacks.
Paterno is proud of the work put in by his team since the regular season ended, "Our kids have worked hard. We're getting better. I think we're going to be ready. I think we're going to have a good football game...just go out there and have a little fun."
Penn State is probably the more physical team, while Florida is more athletic. Neither has the kind of superior talent that led to previous national titles, but in Meyer's swan song, expect the Gators to come away with a hard-fought victory.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Florida 27, Penn State 21