Football fans in general can get pretty antsy when it comes to knowing who the starting quarterback of their favorite team is. Penn State fans are certainly no exception to this rule and the past few years have been filled with question marks surrounding the status of the starting quarterback. In 2010 we saw freshman Rob Bolden emerge as the starter at the beginning of the season and Matt McGloin eventually taking over. Controversy of small proportions ensued. In 2011 it was once again the Bolden vs. McGloin battle before McGloin was given full command of the offense late in the Joe Paterno era and continued once Tom Bradley took over as head coach. Last season we witnessed McGloin silence many critics (myself included) and flourish under Bill O'Brien's offensive schemes while Bolden (and Paul Jones) opted to transfer to other programs.
With McGloin now fighting for a roster spot in the NFL with the Oakland Raiders, all eyes have turned to what O'Brien will do next with Tyler Ferguson or Christian Hackenberg. With about a week and a half to go before kicking off against Syracuse in MetLife Stadium, Penn State's head coach has yet to name a starting quarterback. O'Brien mentioned during Big Ten media days he would ideally like to have a starter in place by this point in time in order to ensure the starter gets as many reps with the first team offense as possible as the team game plans for the Orange. The coach has since backed off of that timeline of course, and now is even suggesting he may go in to the start of the season using both quarterbacks early in the season.
Here we go again? Well, not quite.
It almost feels as though we are reliving the same experience on some levels. Penn State has two realistic quarterback options but neither of them have any experience to fall back on at this point, much like the 2010 season with Bolden (true freshman) and McGloin (buried on the depth chart, two pass attempts in 2009). But this is not exactly a case of déjà vu. Joe Paterno struggled to be able or willing to make a hard decision on his starting quarterback in 2010 and perhaps again in 2011, despite the fact that his team was not suited for a multi-QB system the way Steve Spurrier may have been in his Florida glory days. It seemed as though Paterno had been waiting for Bolden to reach the potential he was supposed to have, while McGloin was doing his best to exceed what he was thought to have.
With O'Brien teasing the idea of playing multiple quarterbacks at the start of the season, it is expected fans might be uneasy about the concept. But let's keep this all in perspective. Though based on a small sample size of one season, O'Brien appears to have successfully implemented a new offensive philosophy at Penn State after decades of familiarity. He found a way to make McGloin a top quarterback in the Big Ten and has allowed many younger offensive players to develop in to role players in short time. If O'Brien is noted for his quarterback work, why not give him a little extra time to make the right decision even if it means rolling in to the start of a new year with two different quarterbacks. Keeping in mind that Ferguson and Hackenberg bring similar styles to the offense, this is not going to be an offense that runs one set of plays with one quarterback and then mixes things up with a whole new set of plays with the other quarterback.
I believe O'Brien will settle on one full time quarterback before the start of Big Ten play, and that decision could potentially come after one game. I do not expect O'Brien to go in to conference play still debating which quarterback gives his offense the best opportunity to do some damage. Playing a season under a postseason ban even gives O'Brien a little more leniency to do this as well. In the grand scheme of it all, win totals do not have as much of an emphasis at Penn State in 2013. Of course they will want and try to win every game and everybody will want to see them finish with a winning record. I am not suggesting otherwise. There is also a rather significant importance on establishing growth on the field. Penn State could go 6-6 this season but if it appears Hackenberg is taking command of the offense and showing signs of what is to come, it could establish some momentum in the future organization of this team.
If it takes O'Brien a few games to figure out what is best for his team in 2013, that is OK. As far as I am concerned, O'Brien is under absolutely no deadlines right now.