Big Ten Media Day Notebook: Bill O’Brien comments on Penn State QB competition

Bill O'Brien addressed the media at Big Ten media day in Chicago, with the QB competition among the main talking points.

In 2010 Rob Bolden was named the first true freshman to start at Penn State in a season opener in Joe Paterno's career. Now, three years and four quarterback transfers later it is possible Penn State could be on the cusp of starting another season with a freshman quarterback leading the offense. At least that is an idea Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien is not going to shy away from as training camp commences on August 5.

"I don’t think it’s unusual," O'Brien said when asked about the oddity of starting a freshman in week one at such a pivotal position. O'Brien spoke about the quarterback competition on day one of the Big Ten football media day event in Chicago.

"We have two quarterbacks at Penn State this year that will compete for the starting job – Tyler Ferguson and Christian Hackenberg," O'Brien said. "Obviously we haven’t had a chance to work with Christian yet [Hackenberg joins the program this summer as an incoming freshman] …and he just arrived here for our summer program. And Tyler, we worked with in the spring and he improved every day." Ferguson was enrolled at Penn State in the spring after confirming his transfer. Ferguson played in the Penn State spring game, sharing playing time mostly with Steven Bench, who has since transferred to South Florida.

Bench was a freshman last season but played briefly in relief of senior Matt McGloin in a road game at Virginia. McGloin had been injured and Bench was used in just the second game of the season. McGloin later returned to the game and we never saw Bench on the field again for the entire season. With a blue-chip recruit lined up in the Class of 2013 in Hackenberg (and another highly rated quarterback lined up for the Class of 2014) along with the addition of Ferguson from the junior college level, Bench was informed his snaps in training camp may not be increased by O'Brien. This led Bench to pursue a transfer to South Florida, where he will have a chance to start this season. The transfer, the fourth by a quarterback since 2011 out of Penn State (Kevin Newsome to Temple, Rob Bolden to LSU, Paul Jones to Robert Morris and Bench to USF), left O'Brien with the most shallow depth at quarterback in terms of experience that Penn State has faced in an extremely long time.

If there is one thing that has been learned about O'Brien's demeanor since being introduced as head coach at Penn State, it is he is not one to back down from a challenge. While the potential for Hackenberg appears to be high, he has yet to participate in a single college practice and Ferguson has not played at this level. O'Brien understands the severity and importance of figuring out who will lead the offense and suggested he would ideally like to make a decision by about the middle of camp. This allows the starter to have adequate time to prepare for the opening game and get a feel for the game plan to be concocted for the Orange. This is not a decision that will be taken lightly of course, and O'Brien is eager to get to work with his options.

Tyler Ferguson has slightly more experience, but has not been around this summer.

"One thing that’s really exciting about working with young quarterbacks is that you get a chance to really mold that quarterback," O'Brien said. "You get a chance to really teach that quarterback. And [QB coach] Charlie Fisher and I are going to do that and work hard at teaching our quarterbacks how to play in our offense and managing a game and play smart, tough Penn State football. We are excited about that."

Ferguson has been at home in California for most of the summer, spending time close to his family to focus on some family issues. His absence from State College raised a few questions earlier in the summer with a rumor that he was going to not return to Penn State. That has since been turned aside but it was brought up again at media day in Chicago. O'Brien once again turned it around and suggested he expects Ferguson to be back for camp.

"Summer's voluntary. Right? The last time I read the NCAA rule book, summer's voluntary," O'Brien said. "He's not there. He's at home. He's got some personal things that he's dealing with at home. To me, again, he'll come in. He'll be here for training camp. What time, what day, all those things, I mean, I don't know. I am sure he'll be in the first team meeting and he'll be ready to compete with Christian for that job."

And so the competition is to be continued.

Kevin McGuire is the managing editor of Nittany Lions Den. Follow McGuire on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

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Kevin McGuire

About Kevin McGuire

Contributor to College Football Talk on NBCSports.com and AthlonSports.com. Member of the FWAA and National Football Foundation. College Football Hall of Fame voter. Also managing The Sports Daily's NittanyLionsDen.com and Macho-Row.com. Can also be seen contributing to TheComeback.com and TheStudentSection.com.