Big Ten: Anthony Morelli

Christian HackenbergAP Photo/Gene J. PuskarChristian Hackenberg, the top-rated quarterback in the 2013 recruiting class, will start the opener at Penn State.

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Four months ago, Christian Hackenberg was kicking up sand near the dugout as part of the Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy baseball team.

He was finding free time, between baseball and classwork, to break out flash cards and study the Penn State playbook -- names of plays and formations on one side and blank on the other, so he could scribble what they looked like. He'd catch himself daydreaming about running through that Beaver Stadium tunnel and launching touchdown passes behind a cheering crowd.

Now? All that studying, dreaming and summer training has culminated in what he's waited to achieve since Feb. 29, 2012, the day he committed to the Nittany Lions: According to sources, he is the starting quarterback at Penn State.

Hackenberg's father had initially weighed the value of a redshirt, but that was before the senior high school season of ESPN's top-rated passer. And a lot has changed in Happy Valley since then. Sophomore Steven Bench, who some expected to be a short-term Band-Aid, transferred to South Florida upon learning he wouldn't receive first-team reps in the preseason. Then juco quarterback Tyler Ferguson missed about a month of voluntary workouts for personal reasons.

Ferguson still held the edge early in camp. But Hackenberg, perhaps the biggest-name quarterback to ever sign a Penn State letter of intent, quickly caught up and impressed the coaching staff. A week into camp, head coach Bill O'Brien said the race became "very even." Less than three weeks later, Hackenberg pulled ahead. He'll be the second PSU true freshman in the last 100 years to be the starting quarterback.

"Christian has come in here and really done a nice job," O'Brien said early on at camp. "He's attentive. He must be staying up late at night studying the playbook because he's come from Day 1 to Day 2 to Day 3 and improved. And he asks great questions in the meetings."

Hackenberg's strong arm dazzled onlookers at last year's Elite 11 and the Under Armour All-America Game, and the baby-faced quarterback already shows more ability to stretch the field than his predecessor, Matt McGloin. During part of an open practice two weeks ago, some reporters muttered "woah" when Hackenberg zipped a pass against his body to the opposite sideline -- right at the receiver's numbers.

Between his arm, accuracy and size -- he is 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds -- Hackenberg's potential and raw ability have never really come into question. Talent is oozing from the aw-shucks kid whose father attended high school in Pennsylvania.

Recruiting analysts, opposing players, college coaches and former quarterbacks have thrown almost as much praise Hackenberg's way as they did to O'Brien after an emotional, 8-4 first season. Said Super Bowl-winning quarterback Trent Dilfer: "Christian is a kid you build a program around."

But potential and high accolades don't always translate to success -- at least not immediately. Former No. 1-rated QB Matt Stafford struggled as a freshman at Georgia and threw 13 interceptions and seven touchdowns. Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen threw seven scores to six interceptions. USC's Matt Barkley had a 15:14 ratio of TDs to interceptions in his first season. ESPN rated each the No. 1 quarterback in his respective class, and all are in the NFL.

So what does that mean for Hackenberg? That future greatness does not necessarily equate to immediate success. Opposing high school coaches have said Hackenberg struggled diagnosing disguised coverages, and the schemes and talent of Big Ten defenses will obviously lie in stark contrast to those Hackenberg saw in high school.

McGloin didn't have the strongest arm but he was a great decision-maker, throwing 24 touchdowns and five interceptions in 2012. Hackenberg is not expected to top those numbers this year, but he is expected to show promise.

The Nittany Lions have had their fair share of busts and underachieving quarterbacks over the years -- Rob Bolden, Paul Jones, Anthony Morelli and Kevin Newsome, to name a few -- but this Lions group also has something different nowadays, namely O'Brien and quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher.

O'Brien molded McGloin, a former walk-on, into a player the Big Ten blog thought deserved consideration for the Davey O'Brien Award. What can he do with the best true freshman quarterback prospect in the nation, one who turned down teams such as Alabama, Florida and Georgia?

We'll start to see at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
Who'll start Saturday -- Christian Hackenberg or Tyler Ferguson?

Whatever the answer is, the quarterback will face the same challenge on Saturday by making his first career start. We can't peer into the future to see what the end result will be. (Hey, as Bill O'Brien likes to say, we're no genies.)

But we can look back to see how the last five Penn State quarterbacks fared in their first career starts. Here they are:

Matt McGloin, redshirt sophomore
vs. Michigan on Oct. 30, 2010
Outcome: PSU 41-31
Stats: 17-of-28 for 250 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions

Synopsis: After Rob Bolden suffered a head injury against Minnesota the week before, McGloin became the next man up. He was the first former walk-on to ever start under Joe Paterno.

After holding on to a 14-10 lead late in the second quarter, McGloin led PSU on two touchdown drives to give the Lions a 28-10 advantage by halftime. Said Paterno after the game: "That's about as well as we can play."

[+] EnlargeRob Bolden
Randy Litzinger/Icon SMIRob Bolden made history in 2010 as the first true freshman quarterback to start an opener for Penn State under coach Joe Paterno.
Rob Bolden, true freshman
vs. Youngstown State on Sept. 4, 2010
Outcome: PSU 44-14
Stats: 20-of-29 for 239 yards, two touchdowns, one interception

Synopsis: He was the first true freshman in a century to start an opener for Penn State, and he fared relatively well against lesser competition.

PSU started off slow and led just 16-7 at halftime, but Bolden was able to get some breathing room when Chaz Powell returned the second-half kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown. Bolden didn't get much help from the running game -- Evan Royster had 40 yards on 11 carries -- but PSU dominated after the touchdown return.

Daryll Clark, redshirt junior
vs. Coastal Carolina on Aug. 30, 2008
Outcome: PSU 66-10
Stats: 11-of-14 for 146 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions

Synopsis: Penn State performed as expected against an FCS cupcake and didn't even really need to pass. PSU rushed for 334 yards and led 38-0 by halftime.

Pat Devlin and Paul Cianciolo played later in the game because, well, there was really no reason for Clark to risk injury. Clark said this afterward: "When you first start, you want everything to go right. I don't think I got touched today."

Anthony Morelli, junior
vs. Akron on Sept. 2, 2006
Outcome: PSU 34-16
Stats: 16-of-32 for 206 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions

Synopsis: Morelli started off hot and drove the Lions to a score on their first drive, on a 42-yard touchdown pass to Deon Butler. He was 7-of-10 passing for 110 yards and two scores on just his first three drives -- and he was the first PSU quarterback since joining the Big Ten to throw three TDs in his first career start.

Said Akron coach J.D. Brookhart: "That kid can throw from one half to the other, 20 yards deep. You won't see a better arm this year."

Michael Robinson, redshirt sophomore
vs. Wisconsin on Oct. 4, 2003
Outcome: Wisconsin 30-23
Stats: 22-of-43 for 379 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions; nine carries for 19 yards

Synopsis: Robinson stepped up when Zack Mills went down the week before with a sprained left knee, and he performed admirably. Although PSU didn't win, Robinson guided PSU on touchdown drives of 74, 80 and 70 yards. And, at the time, only one other PSU quarterback (Mills) had thrown for more yards in a game.

Robinson said this to the Philadelphia Inquirer: "Before the game, I kind of thought they would blitz me a little more, because that's what you usually do to a guy making his first start. You kind of want to get in his head a little bit. They played back and basically told me, 'Look, if you're going to beat us, you're going to have to throw the ball.' And I think we did a pretty good job."

Big Ten lunch links

March, 8, 2011
3/08/11
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Filling in for world explorer Adam today, it's your friendly neighborhood Big East blogger:
My basketball responsibilities caused me to fall behind on monitoring pro days at Big Ten schools, but I'm back in football mode now. Four Big Ten schools -- Illinois, Michigan State, Penn State and Northwestern -- all held their annual pro days on Wednesday, and here are some highlights.

ILLINOIS

  • Wide receiver Arrelious Benn certainly helped himself by clocking a 4.36 in the 40-yard dash, more than a tenth of a second faster than his time (4.48) at the NFL combine.
  • Wide receiver/tight end Jeff Cumberland clocked a 4.46 in the 40. Cumberland boasts excellent size, but his pass-catching ability has been questioned.
  • Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui ran a 4.83 in the 40.
  • Quarterback Juice Williams had his first chance to work out before NFL scouts, while guard Jon Asamoah sat out pro day with a shoulder injury that has limited him since Senior Bowl practice.
MICHIGAN STATE

  • Wide receiver Blair White continued a strong pre-draft performance by running the 40 in 4.46 seconds, improving on his time from the combine (4.5). He also recorded a 33.5-inch vertical leap and a broad jump of 10 feet.
  • Defensive end Trevor Anderson ran a 4.66 in the 40, had a 37-inch vertical leap and a broad jump of 10 feet, 7.5 inches.
  • According to The Detroit News, cornerback Jeremy Ware ran an unofficial time of 4.37 in the 40, while safety Danny Fortener, running back A.J. Jimmerson and cornerback Ross Weaver all ran better than a 4.5.
PENN STATE

  • Quarterback Daryll Clark said he clocked a 4.61 in the 40-yard dash after not running at the combine because of a hamstring injury.
  • Linebacker Navorro Bowman said his 40 time improved to 4.61 seconds (he had a 4.72 in Indy).
  • Linebacker Josh Hull improved substantially on his poor 40 time at the combine (4.91 seconds) by clocking a 4.71 on Wednesday.
  • Linebacker Sean Lee improved his 40 time from 4.74 seconds in Indianapolis to unofficially 4.55 Wednesday.
  • Defensive tackle Jared Odrick said he improved on his 40 time, recording several attempts below five seconds after clocking a 5.03 at the combine. He also improved on his broad jump.
  • Tight end Andrew Quarless said he ran the 40 in the 4.5 range Wednesday after recording a 4.69 in Indianapolis.
  • Tackle Dennis Landolt and defensive end/linebacker Jerome Hayes both said they had 24 reps in the 225-pound bench press.
  • Former Penn State quarterback Anthony Morelli worked out for scouts Wednesday as he tries to revive his pro career.
NORTHWESTERN

  • Quarterback Mike Kafka continued a strong pre-draft performance on pro day, reportedly hitting on almost every throw.
  • Wide receiver Andrew Brewer recorded a 4.60 in the 40, a 39-inch vertical leap, a 10-foot broad jump and a short shuttle run of 4.08 seconds.

Big Ten lunch links

February, 22, 2010
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Catching up on links from late last week and the weekend.

A few more free agent updates

April, 29, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

As expected, several more Big Ten players are signing with NFL teams as free agents or earning tryouts.

  • Penn State cornerback Tony Davis signed with the Cardinals
  • Minnesota punter Justin Kucek has a tryout with the Vikings
  • Minnesota tight end Jack Simmons has a tryout with the Jets
  • Ohio State offensive lineman Steve Rehring has a tryout with the Bengals
  • Ohio State tight end Rory Nicol has a tryout with the Redskins
  • Ohio State defensive tackle Nader Abdallah has a tryout with the Jaguars
  • Ohio State fullback Brandon Smith has a tryout with the Bears
  • Northwestern quarterback C.J. Bacher has a tryout with the Bears
  • Former Illinois running back Walter Mendenhall signed with the Eagles
  • Former Penn State quarterback Anthony Morelli re-signed with the Cardinals

Penn State led by three of a kind

October, 23, 2008
10/23/08
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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

You don't coach a team for 43 years without being dealt some good cards, particularly at the wide receiver position.

Joe Paterno has seen several standouts pass through Penn State, including Biletnikoff Award winner Bobby Engram and All-Americans Kenny Jackson and O.J. McDuffie. He has even had some standout receiver pairs (Engram and Freddie Scott, Jackson and Gregg Garrity).

But before 2005, the 81-year-old had never received a hand that included three of a kind.

That was the year Derrick Williams, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood began starting for the Nittany Lions. Four seasons later, the three wideouts remain the pillars of the Penn State passing game.

"We've had two at different times, but I don't think we've ever had three that are quite like these three are, who have played so much and so long and who have made so many plays," Paterno said. "They're like a band of brothers."

The record-setting wideouts are capping their careers in historic fashion as No. 3 Penn State continues its quest for a national title Saturday night at No. 9 Ohio State (ABC, 8 p.m. ET).

Butler needs six receptions to pass Engram and become Penn State's all-time receptions leader. Williams has more touchdowns on kick returns than any Penn State player during Paterno's tenure. On Sept. 27, he became the first player under JoePa to record a rushing touchdown, a receiving touchdown and a kick return touchdown in the same game.

Norwood is tied with Williams for third place on the school's career receptions list with 142.

For the third consecutive season, Penn State is on pace to have three different receivers catch 40 or more passes, a milestone that hadn't been reached until Butler, Williams and Norwood did it in 2006.

"It's been a long road already," Norwood said. "We've kind of grown up together."

(Read full post)

 
 Rob Tringali/Getty Images
 Quarterback Daryll Clark has lead the Nittany Lions to a 5-0 start.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Daryll Clark doesn't talk like a first-year starter. Fortunately for Penn State, he doesn't act like one, either.

Clark's ability to step in as Penn State's starting quarterback and lead one of the nation's most powerful offenses to a 5-0 start and a No. 6 national ranking can be attributed to fast feet, a strong arm and a sound mind. But there's something else about him, a confidence that his lack of game experience suggests shouldn't be there, but one that seems so appropriate for the 6-foot-2, 231-pound junior.

It's a confidence that hasn't been shaped by converting third-and-longs or engineering fourth-quarter comebacks. It's a confidence that has been challenged repeatedly the last few years, only to restore itself each time.

"He's not a cocky kid," Penn State head coach Joe Paterno said. "Confidence is the word you want. Not cocky. He's worked hard. He's not one of those guys who goes out there and thinks he's got it made and doesn't have to work at it."

Clark has definitely had to work, from spending a year at a prep school to running the scout team to waiting his turn behind Anthony Morelli to competing for the starting job this summer against Pat Devlin. Those experiences have prepared Clark for the work ahead, guiding Penn State to a Big Ten title and potentially the BCS national title game.

"I think back to, 'Wow, you've been through a whole lot. There are a lot of things you've done, a lot of stepping stones, a lot of hurdles in your life, just to get here,'" Clark said Wednesday. "It's rewarding when you think of it. Sometimes I do sit back and think, 'Let's keep it going, man. You've been through a whole lot. Let's not stop now.'"

(Read full post)

 
 Rob Tringali/Getty Images
 Daryll Clark has seven TD passes and only one interception this season.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Shortly after being named Penn State's starting quarterback, Daryll Clark used some word play with the title of the team's new offense -- the Spread HD -- to illustrate whether the unit would sink or swim this fall.

"Hopefully HD will stand for hi-def, highly diverse," Clark said. "And hopefully it doesn't turn out to be a huge dud."

Four games into the season, the former looks like the correct interpretation. Few teams in the country have been as multifaceted on offense as No. 12 Penn State, which ranks among the top eight nationally in scoring (52.8 ppg), rushing (274.3 ypg) and total yards (538.5 ypg).

The Nittany Lions have four regular ball-carriers, including Clark, who average at least 5.9 yards per carry. Leading rusher Evan Royster averages a blistering 8.1 yards per carry, and speedy backup Stephfon Green isn't far behind (7.3 ypg). The team's three senior wide receivers -- Jordan Norwood, Deon Butler and Derrick Williams -- all average at least 14 yards per reception.

Penn State has had six different players rush for a touchdown and the same number catch a scoring strike from Clark, backup Pat Devlin and third-stringer Paul Cianciolo.

That qualifies as diverse.

Comparing the current system to its predecessor, it's as if the Lions traded in their black-and-white TV for one with hi-def capabilities.

"Being able to use all the weapons we have has really helped," Royster said. "I don't think [the switch] needed to happen. I just think it fits our personnel. We could have success with a pocket quarterback that can throw the ball. It's really all about the people you have and what you have to work with."

Running a system that uses all of its available resources has built greater confidence across the board.

"Everybody's trusting each other a lot more than they did last year," center A.Q. Shipley said.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Here's a scary thought for Big Ten defensive coordinators.

In 1994, Penn State led the nation in both scoring (47.8 ppg) and total offense (520.2 ypg), broke three Big Ten records, 14 team records and 19 individual records. The Nittany Lions' produced five first-team All-Americans on offense, including running back Ki-Jana Carter, the No. 1 overall selection in the 1995 NFL draft. Penn State didn't lose a game that fall, beating its opponents by an average of 26 points.

But in terms of big-play threats, the type of players who can change games upon contact with the ball, the 1994 Lions team might be jealous of the current one.

"We didn't have as many [in 1994]," coach Joe Paterno said. "Carter was the first guy picked in the whole draft, Bobby Engram's still playing, [Kerry] Collins was a first-round pick, [Kyle] Brady's still playing tight end with the Patriots. We had four or five on that team that were playmakers and game-breakers, the whole bit.

"We probably have more kids on this team who have that kind of potential."

Whether Penn State makes a push for a Big Ten title in what could be Paterno's final season on the sideline remains to be seen.

The Lions lost linebacker Sean Lee, their top defender, to a knee injury this spring. The team's off-field problems continued this week with the suspensions of three players, including All-Big Ten defensive end Maurice Evans and starting defensive tackle Abe Koroma, for Saturday's critical home matchup against Oregon State (ABC, 3:30 p.m.).

But a glance at Penn State's skill-position depth makes it clear there will be plenty of dizzying highlights this fall in Happy Valley. Throw in a system -- the Spread HD -- that should better utilize the talent, and the Lions should be even more dangerous.

"There's not enough spots on the field for the amount of athletes we have," wide receiver Brett Brackett said. "To get them all to touch the ball and make plays is going to be exciting."

The 6-foot-6, 235-pound Brackett plays behind three senior wide receivers -- Derrick Williams, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood -- who entered the season with 366 career receptions, 32 total touchdowns and 4,597 career receiving yards. Though the group has fallen short of expectations at times, the arrival of a new offensive system and a new quarterback (Daryll Clark) should help.

Williams' value goes beyond the passing game, as he showed last Saturday against Coastal Carolina, returning a kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown. The co-captain has three career touchdowns on returns to go with five rushing scores.

"There's different people that can beat you in different parts of the offense," Brackett said. "It's not just [Anthony] Morelli throwing deep or Rodney [Kinlaw] making runs. There's different guys that can make plays and different abilities."

Williams played an integral role in Penn State's Orange Bowl run in 2005, but when it comes to playmakers, the current team has more -- "by far," he said.

"Right when last year's team was over with, it was definitely a sign of how many weapons we had," Williams continued. "There's so many people on the field that are very good that can do things at any given moment."

The veteran receivers help, but Penn State's biggest strength will be in the backfield. In addition to Clark, whose scrambling ability gives the offense something it didn't have the last two seasons, the Lions boast a core of young ball carriers. There's a reason why seven running backs are listed on this week's depth chart.

Sophomore Evan Royster leads the group after finishing second on the team in rushing and averaging better than six yards a carry last season. Next up is redshirt freshman Stephfon Green, whose speed and elusiveness makes him one of the most anticipated arrivals in recent years. Sophomore Brent Carter also will contribute alongside true freshman Brandon Beachum.

The Lions averaged 7.8 yards a carry and scored seven rushing touchdowns against Coastal Carolina.

"We're in good shape," Paterno said. "But you can't play 'em all, also. Sometimes it's a luxury that we can't exploit."

Brackett and his teammates occasionally watch highlights from the 1994 season, trying to pick up lessons from the offense. But the scheme barely resembles what Penn State now runs.

In some ways, neither do the players.

"They had a lot of offensive weapons," Brackett said, "but I don't think they had the same type of athlete we have now and the amount we have, it's unbelievable. ... It'll be hard to live up to what they did on the field, but we have the ability to do that."

 
 AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
 Daryll Clark (left) edged out Pat Devlin (right) in Penn State's QB competition and will be the starter against Coastal Carolina.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Penn State quarterbacks Daryll Clark and Pat Devlin had some very interesting comments this morning regarding their competition, which ended with Clark being named the starter for Saturday's opener against Coastal Carolina. 

Let's begin with Devlin, who tried to say the right things but couldn't mask his obvious disappointment. Here's a guy who broke Pennsylvania career high school passing record and reneged on a verbal commitment to Miami to play for Penn State. Devlin didn't come to State College to sit on the bench, and though coach Joe Paterno reiterated that both Clark and Devlin are likely to play this season, there is now a clear designation between the two.

Devlin admitted he had a slow start to Tuesday's practice and said Monday's decision likely played a role.

"I don't know what the feeling is," Devlin said. "It's mostly disappointment. You work so hard for something and you feel pretty good about it and the next day they tell you you're not going to start." 

Quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno told Devlin that accuracy played a part in the decision to start Clark, as well as experience. Clark has appeared in 15 games the last two seasons as Anthony Morelli's backup.

Devlin played in three games as a redshirt freshman last fall, attempting one pass.  

"I really don't know how much experience Daryll really has," Devlin said. "I'm not sure how many passes he's had in a game or anything like that. But that was the thing that Joe told us in the meeting, that Daryll probably played a little bit better. Jay said he was a little more accurate and that he had a little more experience. That's understandable." 

Clark is listed as a senior but should earn a fifth year of eligibility, putting him just a year ahead of Devlin. Clark said that he needs to complete 80 percent of his credits to earn a fifth year, and he's already at 88 percent, so "I'm going to have it for sure and I'm going to take it."

When a reporter asked Devlin if transferring is now an option, the quarterback paused eight seconds before answering. 

"I don't think so," he said. "Right now, I've kind of been consumed with this, fighting for the job, so as of now, I'm just going to continue working hard."

Clark expressed his excitement about winning the job but reiterated how close the competition turned out. The two quarterbacks split snaps almost equally with the first-team offense throughout the preseason. 

"It was too close to call working on the inside, actually being out there and playing," Clark said. "When I did something good, he did something good. ... I really don't know the separation. I just tried to make plays.

"Since the competition was so tight, it's only right to play us both and see how it pans out."

Clark is taking the approach that he's the starter solely for the Coastal Carolina game, but he was pleased to hear Joe Paterno say he doesn't have to look over his shoulder. Devlin and Clark have yet to discuss the decision but Clark expects to do so Friday night when the two quarterbacks room together in the team hotel.

Clark hopes to maintain a strong friendship with Devlin, but after going through similar disappointment last summer, he can empathize with the sophomore.

"I really don't know how he's going to react to this," Clark said. "I'll probably know how it is in the hotel room Friday. You put so much effort into winning the job. I completely understand that. I've been there. I'm anxious to see how he'll be once we room together. I hope it doesn't turn out to be him being so disappointed that he doesn't want to be cool with me."

Clark also weighed in on potential cliques forming in the locker room.

"I hope it doesn't get like that," Clark said. "Let's be honest. There are people on the team that want him in, there are people on the team that want me in. Who? I don't know. But I hope nothing bad comes out of this." 

Clark's confidence, common sense and candor should serve him well as the starter. Devlin's disappointment Wednesday morning was completely understandable, but Clark always seemed to project as the better leader. 

The 6-foot-2, 231-pound senior was a Prop 48 nonqualifier who went to prep school to get his academics in order. Then he waited two years behind Morelli.

Now it's his time.

"This is a long time coming," Clark said. "I've been very patient, very quiet about everything and just kept a level head. I felt I worked hard enough, put in enough time to be a Penn State quarterback. A lot of things are running through my mind right now. I'm playing the game over and over in my head each and every day. I would be lying if I told you I wasn't nervous about Saturday. On the way over to the stadium, I'll probably be a little overwhelmed. I'll probably be real excited. This is a dream come true. You want to be the guy at quarterback, you want to be the guy that leads the team."

Penn State turns to Clark at QB

August, 26, 2008
8/26/08
2:17
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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

 
  AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
  Senior Daryll Clark has been named the Penn State starting quarterback.

After listing two possible starters at quarterback on Penn State's Week 1 depth chart, coach Joe Paterno made his decision and tabbed senior Daryll Clark to lead the Nittany Lions offense against Coastal Carolina. Clark had been expected to get the starting nod over sophomore Pat Devlin, mostly because of his experience last season as Anthony Morelli's backup.

The 6-2, 231-pound Clark turned in an impressive performance in the Alamo Bowl, helping rally Penn State to a win against Texas A&M. His combination of size and speed seems to fit Penn State's new offense, the Spread HD, but Paterno doesn't discount Clark's ability as a passer, which will be key as the Lions return three senior wide receivers.

"He's a good all-around quarterback," Paterno said on the Big Ten coaches teleconference. "People think he's a runner. He's a good thrower. Smart kid, good leader."

Paterno reiterated that both Devlin and third-stringer Paul Cianciolo remain in the mix and that more than one quarterback could see the field this fall. It will be interesting to see what happens to Devlin, a highly touted prep quarterback who reneged on a verbal commitment to Miami to play for his home state school. Clark is on pace to earn a fifth season of eligibility in 2009, while Devlin has three seasons of eligibility remaining.

Devlin still should see the field a decent amount this fall, and Paterno downplayed the belief that Clark's skills fit the offense better than the other candidates.

"The system's got to fit the quarterback," Paterno said. "You've got a quarterback and we have three, and you can't put a system in for one quarterback because he could go down halfway through the first quarter or the first game, so you put in something they all can do without being a strain."

Clark appeared in eight games last season, completing 6 of 9 passes for 31 yards. Though Paterno said he named a starter to prevent Clark from looking over his shoulder, the junior doesn't appear to lack any confidence and has the demeanor to command respect right away.

"They're all bright as can be, but I had to make a pick and Clark right now is the best of the three," Paterno said. "But the other two guys will be pushing."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

It's time to open the mailbag. You ask, I answer.

Here we go:

Brian from parts unknown, writes:

Hey Adam-lets talk some Badger Football-do you think the scheduling of Cal Poly will cost the Badgers a shot in the BCS? They have a favorable schedule-if they stay healthy and with a couple of breaks, they could be a very dangerous team later in the season. They have a lot of the skilled positions back, including the best groups of running backs in the Big Ten, maybe even the country. There are high expectations here in Wisconsin, your thoughts??

Adam Rittenberg: Most major-conference teams are dipping into the I-AA ranks for scheduling purposes, so the Badgers should be fine. A quick look shows that Ohio State plays Youngstown State, Florida plays The Citadel (a Wisconsin opponent last year), Oklahoma plays Chattanooga and West Virginia plays Villanova. The only thing that could hurt is that the Cal Poly game comes at the end of the season. Wisconsin's nonconference schedule isn't too treacherous, as a reporter pointed out to Bret Bielema last week, but a visit to Fresno State provides a major test in September. If Wisconsin knocks off Fresno in Fresno, it will have nothing to worry about regarding possible BCS selection.


John from Oneonta, N.Y., writes:

Adam, I couldn't help but notice your response to the PSU posters regarding PSU's DL and locking Wisconsin in as the #2 team in the Big 10 in your eyes. You mention something about PSU finding a reliable QB will be key. While that remains true, the QB situation at PSU is in better hands with Clark and Devlin than it was with Morelli. That said, who is the reliable QB in Madison this year? Everidge is no more reliable than Clark or Devlin. This is their third starting QB in three years.

Adam Rittenberg: Of the three quarterback vacancies in the Big Ten, Penn State appears to have the most stable situation. Projected Wisconsin frontrunner Allan Evridge has the most collegiate game experience of any candidate throughout the league, but most of it came three years ago at Kansas State. Clark's Alamo Bowl performance was encouraging for Penn State, and he definitely has the intangibles to command respect from Day 1. From talking to center A.Q. Shipley, it sounds like the offensive players would be comfortable with Clark as their leader. Still, there are questions about his ability as a passer. Someone needs to take advantage of Penn State's veteran receivers before they're gone.


Jack from Glen Ellyn, Ill., writes:

Re: your ranking of Big Ten O-lines. I'm a litle surprised to see my Illini as low as fourth. OSU I understand, and maybe I really don't know that much about Wiscy and PSU, but the Illini have a number of physically huge and talented young road-graders just ready to step in.

Adam Rittenberg: The loss of first-team All-Big Ten guard Martin O'Donnell and a few health concerns this spring caused me to drop Illinois to fourth, but that group can definitely finish higher. Wisconsin is very strong at both guard spots and has no questions at tackle; Illinois must replace Akim Millington on the right side. All of the top four teams are very strong up front, so the order could be tweaked by the end of the season.


Devon from Long Island, writes:

I'm a Penn State fan, but you are selling Adam Weber way short. Not only did he have 24 passing touchdowns, not 19, but he also had 5 rushing scores. Guys a crazy good athlete and can pass. He's, for me, the #3 or #4 in the Big Ten. But here's my question: What is the best case scenario for how Daryll Clark plays?

Adam Rittenberg: You're right about Weber's athleticism and frankly I'd be surprised if he doesn't finish the season much higher on the list. He was a lot like Northwestern's C.J. Bacher last season: big numbers, too many interceptions. If he can reduce his picks and continue to punish defenses with his legs, Minnesota will be dangerous on offense. What I worry about is the fact the Gophers have no proven running back and some questions on the line, which increases pressure for Weber. They need Duane Bennett or Jay Thomas to emerge as a reliable runner. As for Daryll Clark, the BCS (best-case scenario) is he makes defenses respect his arm enough so that he can burn them with his legs. Clark doesn't need to be Michael Robinson. He's got enough talent around him and a solid line. Penn State could win 10 games this fall with him at the helm.


Jordan from Marion, Ill., writes:

do you give Michigan a chance a competing for the Big 11 or are you like all the others that doubt them?How do you think Michigan will fare with Threet at QB?and do you see Justin Feagin starting QB by mid-season?

Adam Rittenberg: It all depends on the start. If the Wolverines survive a very difficult opener against Utah, beat a defensive-minded Miami (Ohio) team and then take care of Notre Dame in South Bend, they'll have a ton of confidence heading into Big Ten play. But I don't see them getting through that stretch unscathed. There are too many questions on offense and despite having talent, most of it is young and unproven. Michigan should be in the league's top half by November, but no Big Ten title. Threet has the intelligence to grasp RichRod's system, but will his physical skills allow him to effectively run the offense? Feagin is probably the best fit from a skills standpoint, but I highly doubt he'll be starting at any point this season.


Bill from West Lafayette, Ind., writes:

Adam - love your blog. I read it daily and love to hear about what you have to say about the big 10. I know a lot of people have been down on my Purdue Boilermakers - saying we will be lucky to win 6 games this year. Granted, we aren't going to be the 2000 or 2004 teams, but I think we have a chance to really make a stir in the big 10, your thoughts? You are right about Tiller (we call him T-bone around here) being a character ? what a guy. Being his last season should mean a lot to this team and town.

Adam Rittenberg: Bill, your Boilers are a bit of a mystery entering the season. They have a senior quarterback in Curtis Painter, which always helps, but the personnel losses at wide receiver/tight end and the health of the line raises red flags. I just got off the phone with offensive coordinator Ed Zaunbrecher, who expects the linemen to be healthy for the start of camp. If the new juco receivers catch on quickly (pun intended), the offense should be solid. The big reason people are down on Purdue is the schedule. Oregon is always tough, Central Michigan's offense is very good Notre Dame has improved and will host game in South Bend. Then they open Big Ten play with Penn State and Ohio State. Purdue never wins enough big games, but it has plenty of chances early. If Painter can lead the Boilers to a win against Oregon or Notre Dame on the road, he'll have a ton of confidence heading into Big Ten play.


Hamza from Chicago writes:

Why don't people have Todd Boeckman on their heisman watch list i mean he did lead a very good Ohio State Team last year?

Adam Rittenberg: Boeckman is in a tough spot. People are more interested in the guy lining up behind him (Beanie Wells) in the backfield or one of the guys behind him on the two-deep (Terrelle Pryor). But you're right, he led Ohio State to the national title game last season. If he exploits big-play threat Brian Robiskie for some highlight-reel touchdowns in September, particularly against USC, Boeckman could get some Heisman hype. Then again, if he's not being talked about now, he probably has no chance.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The second installment of Quarterback Conundrums takes us to Happy Valley, where Penn State is looking for a new offensive leader after two years with Anthony Morelli. Two very different candidates headline what should be one of the league's most intriguing position competition this summer.

The candidates

Daryll Clark (6-2, 231, Jr.): Served as Morelli's backup last season and finished with a flourish, helping Penn State rally from a 14-0 deficit to win the Alamo Bowl. Top-shelf athlete has good size and plenty of charisma, but must rid the run-first quarterback label. Is often compared to former Nittany Lions quarterback Michael Robinson, the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year in 2005. Didn't win the job this spring, but has the experience edge over Pat Devlin. Penn State is leaning more toward a spread offense, which could maximize Clark's talents.

Pat Devlin (6-4, 222, So.): Standout prep quarterback from Philly suburbs is best known for backing out of a commitment to Miami for the chance to start at his home-state school. Strong-armed and considered the better pure passer of the two. Has great size but only one collegiate pass attempt to his credit. Known as a passer but has the ability to scramble. "I can run the ball a little bit," he said this spring. "I've never said I'm a track star or anything."

Who they're replacing

Anthony Morelli: He was enigmatic, to say the least, in two seasons at the helm of the Nittany Lions' offense. Few doubted Morelli's arm strength and he set several school passing records, but his decision-making and leadership skills often came into question. Last season he passed for 2,651 yards with 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, completing 58.2 percent of his passes.

Spring skinny

Neither candidate claimed the starting job this spring, though Clark took most of the snaps with the first-team offense. Devlin, however, had the slightly stronger performance in the Blue-White game, completing 12 of 18 passes for 122 yards and a touchdown.

Summer storylines

  • In addition to having more experience than Devlin, Clark is a confident and vocal leader who should be able to command respect in the huddle. "I've been the most vocal than I've ever been before," he said in April. "I just feel confident. When everyone's looking at me, I have a great feeling with everyone in the huddle. The leadership step that I took was pretty big this spring."
  • It seems like Penn State's current crop of receivers has been there as long as JoePa. Derrick Williams, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood are familiar names around the Big Ten, but as a group, they have underachieved at times. As seniors, they should be poised for a stellar season, but building chemistry with the new quarterback is vital. Whoever establishes a good rhythm with the wideouts will have the inside track to the starting job.
  • Devlin gave up Miami to play in Happy Valley, and sitting on the bench wasn't what he had in mind. If Clark wins the job, it'll be interesting to see what happens with Devlin, who could transfer or stick it out. He's only a sophomore, but Clark is just a year older.

Prediction

Joe Paterno usually goes with experience at quarterback, and Clark's strong performance in the Alamo Bowl showed he's up to the task. Clark still must prove he can be a reliable passer and utilize a senior-laden receiving corps. The Lions boast a good rushing attack with Evan Royster and warp-speed freshman Stephfon Green, but they will need to throw it more than, say, Wisconsin. It would be surprising if Clark doesn't start the opener against Coastal Carolina, but Devlin also should see the field this fall.

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