New Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien said good-bye to one of the NFL’s most prolific passers on Monday. On Tuesday, he said hello to a quarterback situation that is considered by many to be the joke of the college football world.
What’s a new coach to do?
Unlike the NFL—where you can draft or trade or sign a new quarterback before taking the field next season—college football is a place where you’re stuck with what you’ve been given.
Earlier this week, an intriguing rumor was spread—then denied—around the Maryland football community about former ACC Freshman of the Year, Danny O’Brien. Supposedly, he met with second-year coach Randy Edsall and decided to transfer, a Twitter report which Danny O’Brien then denied.
While there is no substantial information to link O’Brien leaving Maryland with him coming to Penn State, many are wondering if it’s more than a last name that Penn State’s new coach shares with Maryland’s exiting playcaller. Perhaps they’ll be sharing a sideline.
Rumors aside, the problematic quarterback position at Penn State might be Coach O’Brien’s first riddle to solve. What is the fastest and most efficient way to get strong quarterback play for the Nittany Lions?
Will it be from the Usual Suspects, the Future Phenom, or the Mercenary?
The Usual Suspects
Penn State has three viable options at quarterback on the roster: rising redshirt senior Matt McGloin, rising junior Rob Bolden, and rising redshirt sophomore Paul Jones.
What started as an intriguing situation in the spring game of 2010 has turned into a stomach-churning enigma in 2012. One top quarterback left before 2011 started (Kevin Newsome), and one blue-chip kid has never become academically eligible (Paul Jones). The other two have had such a turbulent two years that no one knows what to expect.
Penn State’s two-quarterback system for most of 2011 did neither QB any good. Bolden choked with the short leash, and McGloin never established any rhythm. McGloin finally grabbed the starting role after Paterno’s firing in November, leading Penn State to an unsatisfying November for the second straight season.
The prospect of either of these players (or even worse, both of these players!) for another season is a nauseating scenario for most Penn Staters, unless Coach O’Brien has the Midas touch. Can Bolden be taught how to play the quarterback position and to utilize his physical abilities? Can McGloin be taught to limit his mistakes and play within himself? If either answer is yes, then the Bolden/McGloin answer might offer some satisfaction.
The dream of Jones becoming the quarterback savior is a moot point until he becomes eligible. Which he isn’t. Some doubt he’ll ever take a snap for Penn State. Even if he beefs up on the books, he still has a lot of growing to do on the field. But maybe, just maybe, he’ll put early academic struggles behind him and blossom into the QB1 that Coach O’Brien needs (ala Daryll Clark in 2008 and 2009).
The Future Phenoms
If the answer at quarterback doesn’t lie on the current roster, then we have to look to the future.
Penn State’s new staff soured on the old staff’s athletic quarterback recruit (Skyler Mornhinweg) but found an under-the-radar gunslinger of their own before Letter of Intent Day (Steven Bench). The Georgia native provides Penn State with needed depth but is unlikely to contribute early on at Penn State. If he is needed this fall, it won’t be a fortuitous sign for Nittany Lions fans.
Next year’s recruiting class features a number of exciting prospects, many of whom are visiting on February 18 for Penn State’s Junior Day. Virginia prospects Ryan Burns and Christian Hackenberg are just two of the blue chippers interested in Penn State, and a handful of others are snooping around to see what an NFL offensive coordinator could do for their professional aspirations.
One blue chip kid could come in and revolutionize Penn State’s quarterback position. It’s happened elsewhere. But it’s rare. And if it does happen, it wouldn’t be until 2013. That doesn’t answer our question for 2012. Which leads us to…
Utilizing an NCAA rule meant to reward successful scholar-athletes, Russell Wilson, a dynamic quarterback at North Carolina State for three years, transferred to Wisconsin and immediately took a solid team and made them exceptional. Could Penn State be the next school to capitalize on the rule?
Danny O’Brien excelled in Ralph Friedgen’s system as a redshirt freshman in 2010, earning ACC Rookie of the Year honors. Nagged with injuries and out of sync with a new coaching philosophy as a sophomore, O’Brien slumped. Now, rumors are swirling about his transfer from Maryland after graduation in May.
Historically, Penn State has shied away from transfers and junior college players, preferring to bring in freshmen and coach them up. But neither scenario is without precedent (Jim Shaw from Rice and Chris Rogers from Michigan are two recent transfers while Nerraw McCormack and Ako Poti came up from the JC level).
But a move like this doesn’t even need to follow precedent. The new head coaching staff chose just one of the current quarterback (the freshman Bench), and if a viable option were available through the “Russell Wilson rule,” then no one should be surprised to see them act. Quarterbacks far more talented than any of the Usual Suspects have left when a new coaching staff arrived (Ryan Mallett left Michigan for Arkansas when Rich Rod came in). It’s possible the new staff will prefer one or two of their own guys (Bench and Danny O’Brien) over some of the current PSU QBs.
Or not. Perhaps the Usual Suspects will stay atop the depth chart for the next few years.
A new day is dawning at Penn State, but that doesn’t necessarily mean everything will be new in 2012. We might see the same faces but with improved results. Or we might limp along until Coach O’Brien gets his man. Or maybe Danny O’Brien will be the right guy at the right time for Penn State’s quarterback situation.
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