March Madness for PSU Football

While the Wisconsin and Penn State basketball teams might be watching the tournament from their couches this weekend, Wisconsin and Penn State football teams could be watching the Leaders Division title be decided upon one player’s recruiting visit.

Danny O’Brien, the current Maryland student and former Maryland quarterback, is wrapping up his second straight weekend of visits with a stop in Madison. The former ACC Rookie of the Year visited Penn State last weekend with his mom, then traveled to Ole Miss with a former Terrapin teammate, and now is visiting Bret Bielema and his shell of a coaching staff at Wisconsin, all in hopes of finding a transfer destination for himself.

Although Vanderbilt (home of O’Brien’s first offensive coordinator at Maryland) seemed a likely destination when his transfer rumors first broke, chatter has cooled about the possibility of O’Brien winding up there. O’Brien really enjoyed his time with Coach Bill O’Brien last weekend, and it’s hard to imagine him not liking the scenario Penn State would present him with—world-class facilities, top-notch stadium, strong supporting players, and a coaching staff with NFL experience.

Ole Miss seems less likely a destination for him, as new head coach Hugh Freeze plans on implementing a spread offense geared towards a mobile quarterback. O’Brien, a pro-style quarterback, is ill-suited for such an attack, but you never know when it comes to the SEC’s recruiting wiles.

But Wisconsin, oh Wisconsin, oh proud beneficiaries of the Russell Wilson rule in 2011, oh hopeful beneficiaries of the Russell Wilson rule in 2012—Wisconsin hopes to be able to lay on the cheese spread thickly this weekend as they surround the searching quarterback with a legion of beefy linemen and a fleet of stocky tailbacks. Wisconsin is certainly an attractive destination for O’Brien.

Considering the Badgers’ fortunes last year with a soldier of fortune, O’Brien has to like the prospects of heading to Madtown with the keys to a pro-style offense, a usually stout defense, and a delirious fan base. Last year’s Big Ten championship was decided by a custom import; why not try for two?

With Ohio State serving a post-season ban this year, the cream of the Leaders Division crop is suddenly thinner. Penn State and Wisconsin, even with major losses among personnel and intense turnover on coaching staffs, are remarkably the favorites to play in Indianapolis on December 1. Illinois (and its new coaching staff), Purdue (and its forever-torn ACLs), and Indiana (and its unfortunate case of being Indiana) don’t have the talent to break into the upper echelon this season.

So, in a strange twist of fate, the Big Ten race could be decided on the whim of an ACC phenom who was discarded by a mediocre Big East coach who unseated a 9-3 coach at a school that hasn’t beaten its closest northern rival since 1961 (PSU is 35-1-1 all-time over Maryland, for those of you scoring at home).

Penn State fans—long disgruntled and snake-bitten by the QB position—aren’t sure what to make of O’Brien. On the one hand, no one is thrilled by what we’ve seen from the position the past three years (McGloin/Bolden/Jones). On the other hand, some doubt whether O’Brien—whose 2011 stats on a 2-10 Terrapin team weren’t much superior from McGloin’s—is the cold cup of fresh water the Nittany Lions need. Instead, some fear he might just muddy the already turbulent waters at the QB position.

Watch this video if you’re having fears. Welcoming this kid in, at worst, will make us deeper at the QB position. At best, he might provide us with two years of strong BCS-level quarterback play, something we’ve sorely lacked since Daryll Clark hung up his white helmet.

I don’t think anyone is expecting a Wisconsin-like rise to excellence from this PSU squad. The holes are simply too big on the OL, DL, and secondary in 2012. But the QB position has been too substandard to allow O’Brien to slip past us.

Paterno’s staff passed on Wilson (who expressed interest, even if it was vague), and Penn State literally lost a Big Ten title to Wisconsin because of it. They are fighting for Danny O’Brien against their stiffest competition, and the next Big Ten title could be at stake.

O’Brien is expected to decide in a few more weeks, but—as it is with the NCAA basketball tournament—March Madness isn’t supposed to end until April. And this season, the effects of football’s March Madness might not be felt until December 1 in Indianapolis.

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