Christian Hackenberg may not be in the picture this spring at Penn State, but he will be a key name in the mix under center before the start of the 2013 season. (Photo source: USA Today Sports)
Spring football presents fans with a number of open competitions to keep an eye on. As is typically the case, quarterback competitions tend to shine a little brighter this time of year around the country and certainly within the fan base. Here at Crystal Ball Run we are looking to highlight some of the key position battles taking place at a number of the top programs from coast to coast.
We previously took a look at the quarterback competition at USC, where replacing Matt Barkley. Today we take a look at another program looking to replace a Matt, with Penn State opening up a competition to fill the black Nike sneakers of Matt McGloin.
Matt McGloin had a surprisingly solid 2012 season and flourished under Bill O'Brien's more open offensive philosophy. While not overly impressive in his skill set, McGloin worked hard and was a more dependable quarterback in 2012, leading the Big Ten in passing with 3,271 yards and 24 touchdowns while throwing just five interceptions, etching his name in the Penn State record books along the way. With McGloin leading the nothing-to-lose offense, Penn State scored 14 touchdowns through the air inside the red zone (Penn State had 31 total red zone touchdowns in 2012 after recording just 21 in 2011), and McGloin even showed the willingness to tuck the football and run when close to the end zone by rushing for five more touchdowns.
Simply put, a new era of Penn State offense was upon us and leaving many to wonder just what could be next with O'Brien at the helm.
Penn State's offense is no longer one that will rely on the run on first and second down and then maybe rush a full back up the middle on third and short. With a new tight end scheme seeing some younger players finding their roles in the offense and Allen Robinson emerging as one of the top receivers in the Big Ten, the spotlight on the quarterback may be the brightest it has been in a long time. But this season the roster is shallow on experience. We are talking kiddie pool shallow, which leaves plenty of room for competition this spring and later in the summer.
Competition is certainly nothing new at quarterback for Penn State. This has been the case each of the past three springs, after Daryll Clark graduated following the 2009 season. Rob Bolden, a true freshman, started the 2010 season as Penn State's quarterback but McGloin ended the year leading the offense. In 2011 Bolden once again started the season as the starter, although McGloin was being switched in and out on a regular basis before Tom Bradley stuck with McGloin as the team's starting quarterback following the firing of Joe Paterno. And again last spring, with O'Brien taking charge of the program, McGloin beat out Bolden and another former prized recruit in Paul Jones, for the starting job. Bolden and Jones have since transferred to other programs.
Matt McGloin (2012 stats): 270 of 446 (60.5 percent), 3,271 yards, 24 touchdowns, 5 interceptions
Who's filling the void?
Steven Bench, Sophomore (2012 stats): 2 of 8 (25.0 percent), 12 yards, 0 touchdowns, 0 interceptions
Tyler Ferguson, Redshirt Sophomore (junior college transfer; 2012 stats): 199 of 358 (55.6 percent), 2,614 yards, 22 touchdowns, 12 interceptions
Christian Hackenberg*, Freshman: One of the top-rated quarterback recruits in the Class of 2013.
* Hackenberg is a Class of 2013 addition and will not join the team until the summer, but he is very much worth including in this conversation.
What's happening this spring?
With a lack of experience under center this spring the competition is on as Bill O'Brien attempts to find the next leader of his offense. With prized quarterback recruit Christian Hackenberg not joining the team until the summer that gives sophomore Steven Bench and junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson an opportunity to take a hold of the offense and become the player to beat. Bench has the supposed advantage of already being a part of the Penn State offense for a full season under O'Brien, who recruited the Georgia native as the first of what is expected to be a push to recruit more out of the south. But Bench played extremely sparingly last season, with the intent of O'Brien possibly trying to preserve a redshirt season for one of his quarterbacks. Bench was thrown in to the mix in week two at Virginia last season to fill in for an injured Matt McGloin. While Bench was on the sideline essentially all season, he was studying O'Brien's offensive system with the hope of getting a head start on the competition this season.
The addition of Ferguson ended up being the back-up plan after Penn State lost out on the junior college recruitment of Kansas State bound Jake Waters. Regardless, Ferguson brings some playing experience to the table after one year at the junior college level in California and that could come in to play this spring.
Penn State's spring game is scheduled for April 20. O'Brien changed the format a little bit last season to move away from two full teams of offense and defense, and instead made it strictly an offense vs defense format. Even if that new format continues this season, Bench and Ferguson should expect to see an equal number of snaps. The performances in the Blue White Game could go a long way in determining who wins the starting job in the fall, but O'Brien is not expected to make that decision until the week of the season opener.
What to expect heading in to the summer and fall?
Bench and Ferguson will be the story of the spring for Penn State's quarterbacks, but this will be a three-man competition once Hackenberg joins the program this summer. With such hype and potential surrounding him, Hackenberg could feasibly make a push for playing time early on. If Bench and Ferguson struggle to impress O'Brien and quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher, then Hackenberg could build some momentum.
When the season starts though look for Bench or Ferguson to be the one leading the offense for the start of the season. Hackenberg will see his time at some point, but he is still a true freshman stepping in to a difficult situation. For now, if Penn State wants to field the most competitive team in the fall, it might be expected to go with a player that either has a year of playing experience or a year already invested in the system. Bench, for now, would be my bet to open the season as Penn State's starter, but Hackenberg could very well be the starter by the end of the season.