Examining The Quarterback Battle At Penn State

By Rick Stavig
Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

One of the biggest surprises to the Penn State Nittany Lions football team last year was the play of quarterback Matt McGloin.  The big surprise was that he didn’t play that bad.  In fact, he played good.

Anytime you’re a starting quarterback at a BCS school and you complete 60% of your passes while throwing for 3,271 yards with a 24-5 touchdown to interception ratio?  That’s pretty darn good.  And this was all surprising because we know McGloin’s not that good.  I mean, this guy used to get beat by regular college students at games of throwing footballs into garbage cans. Coach Bill O’Brien created him.  We saw what he was before O’Brien installed a brilliant scheme perfectly designed for McGloin’s strengths.  He was a middling 50% completion quarterback who threw too many interceptions at crucial moments.  After a little O’Brien magic?  The results speak for themselves.

Now that McGloin is gone, a new hole has emerged under center, and O’Brien is going to have to work his magic once again.  At least this time, he’ll be doing it with quarterbacks that he personally brought in.

During the upcoming spring practices, it’s really going to be just a two-horse race between Steven Bench and Tyler Ferguson.

Bench should have a slight lead at this stage in the game, merely because of his familiarity with the scheme.  After all, he was the primary backup last year to McGloin, although he didn’t see much time (completing a paltry 2-8 passes for 12 yards).  Bench brings a good skill set to the table at 6’2” 205lbs, and has the ability to run.  His knowledge of the current scheme and having already developed relationships with his receivers will no doubt prove useful in the spring battle.  Continued progress is imperative for Bench.

The ink of Ferguson’s signed letter of intent is barely dry and he’s already being expected to win the starting quarterback job.  Ferguson is arriving to State College via Junior College at the College of Sequoias, where he threw for 2,614 yards with 22 touchdowns and 12 interceptions last year.  At 6’4” 210lbs, Ferguson is more of a pocket passer than Bench, but has the better arm of the two.

The whole quarterback battle this spring might not mean anything if mega recruit Christian Hackenberg comes in and truly blows everyone away.  He very well could do that, considering his immense physical skills.  After watching him play, it’s hard to find many flaws with him.  He’s got one of the quickest releases I’ve seen in years.  There’s no doubt in my mind that under O’Brien’s tutelage, Hackenberg can be an All-American.

Although if I were going to bet on it, I’d say Hackenberg redshirts this year for the opportunity to play for a championship later down the road, when the sanctions are lifted.  He could also use some seasoning and mechanical work with O’Brien.

The battle this spring should be a tight one, and the winner will more than likely be starting week one this fall.  But that’s just a seat warming position until Hackenberg takes over in 2014.  Patience, Lions fans, patience.

Rick Stavig is a National Recruiting Columnist for RantSports.com. In addition to covering College Football, he also covers the NFL and NFL Draft.  Follow him on Twitter @rickstavig or add him to your network on google.

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