Big Ten: Tyler Ferguson

QB Ferguson to transfer from Penn State

December, 4, 2013
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Penn State backup quarterback Tyler Ferguson was granted a release from his scholarship Monday and will seek a transfer elsewhere, he told

The sophomore asked for his release prior to the departure of quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher and sent his release papers to about 50 schools, roughly 40 in the FBS and 10 in the FCS. He hopes to land somewhere in time for spring classes.

[+] EnlargeTyler Ferguson
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicTyler Ferguson played well in spring practice but was eventually passed by Christian Hackenberg as Penn State's No. 1 QB in preseason.
"I'm just wanting to play somewhere," Ferguson said. "I really don't have any preference where that is; I just want to play somewhere."

Ferguson enrolled at Penn State in January and overtook the lone returning quarterback, Steven Bench, during spring practice to become the No. 1 QB. Bench transferred to South Florida, but true freshman Christian Hackenberg then surpassed Ferguson on the depth chart in the preseason.

The former junior-college standout finished this season playing in five games. He went 10-of-15 for 155 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.

Rumors circulated before the season that Ferguson intended to transfer because he was homesick for Bakersfield, Calif. He left campus for several weeks in July for family reasons but told that the thought of transferring back then never entered his mind.

It was only in the past two or three weeks, during talks with his father, that he believed it might be best to seek an opportunity elsewhere.

"After the Wisconsin game, we sat down with [Bill] O'Brien and he agreed that I could play somewhere else," Ferguson said. "And we both agreed Christian is a hell of a player."

Ferguson said proximity to home was not a factor in his decision to leave Penn State, nor will it be in where he'll wind up next. He weighed getting a degree from Penn State as a backup quarterback but ultimately decided to finish his education as a potential starter elsewhere.

"I just want a school that says, 'You're going to come in and compete,'" Ferguson said. "And whether that's -- and I'm just throwing this school out there as an example -- Boston College or Fresno State. If that gives me the best chance to compete and they're a good team, one of the top four teams in their conference or something like that, that'd be great."

With Ferguson's departure, Hackenberg is currently the only scholarship quarterback on the roster. However, ESPN 300 quarterback Michael O'Connor (Bradenton, Fla./IMG Academy), a four-star PSU commit, is set to enroll in January.

Three preferred walk-ons -- D.J. Crook, Austin Whipple and Jack Seymour -- are also on the roster.

Ferguson will finish out the semester in State College before flying west to California. And he said his time at Penn State, however short, was memorable.

"I don't think I could've possibly learned more football from any school than I did from coaches O'Brien and Fisher," he said. "I'm very grateful."

Big Ten Friday mailblog

September, 13, 2013
Wishing you a good weekend of football. Don't forget to follow us on Twitter.

To the mail ...

Wisc QB from Wisconsin writes: Why is it that even though Wisconsin is returning more starters and has played more games than ASU, everybody is acting like ASU is a proven commodity while Wisconsin is still an unknown. Why is nobody mentioning that this is the first real test for both of these teams? And I'm pretty surprised that I haven't seen a single pick in favor of the Badgers.

Adam Rittenberg: These are fair points, QB, and it's a little odd to see a ranked team getting so little love against an unranked foe. You're right that neither team has been tested, so we really don't know that much right now. The concern is that Arizona State's strength (a dynamic passing game) is matching up with Wisconsin's potential weakness (secondary/pass defense). A quarterback like Taylor Kelly could pick apart a Badgers back four featuring three new starters if he doesn't face pressure. That's why I'm so interested to see what Dave Aranda and Gary Andersen dial up for this one. You also can't overlook the fact that Big Ten teams really struggle in Pac-12 venues (just six wins in the past 26 appearances) and have never beaten Arizona State in Tempe. Sure, this year is different and the teams are different, but on paper, this looks like a tough matchup for Andersen's Badgers.

Todd from Atlantic Highlands, N.J., writes: I'm surprised you haven't mentioned the unfortunate death of the UCLA football player and the impact it might have on the Nebraska-UCLA game. If managed correctly, I think it could provide the edge to UCLA. If not managed well, it could cause UCLA to be blown out. What are your thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: Todd, we mentioned the tragedy on a few videos, but not enough in the blog. That's a fair point, and it could be a significant factor Saturday. It's a terrible thing for a team to deal with, especially in the middle of a season. Teams can use a tragedy as a rallying point but they also can get overwhelmed by it, especially when things start to go badly on the field. It's why I'm so interested in how UCLA starts the game Saturday. The Bruins are playing at 9 a.m. Pacific time, which is already an adjustment, and continue to deal with Nick Pasquale's tragic passing. I think there's an opportunity for Nebraska to strike quickly and shock UCLA a bit. Then again, Bruins coach Jim Mora is an excellent motivator, and he should have his team as ready as he possibly can for kickoff.

Joel from Minneapolis writes: Adam, you've made it clear how annoyed you (and Brian) are about Minnesota playing the likes of FCS and bottom-dweller FBS teams, and I am in the same boat. I would love to see more noteworthy opponents than Western Illinois on the Gophers' schedule as well. My question is what is your take on Kill's rationale for scheduling these types of teams (building confidence)? I would like to think that maybe Kill is on to something, that once Minnesota can turn that corner of putting away these types of teams the way perhaps Wisconsin has done up until now, maybe it would be a worthwhile investment.

Adam Rittenberg: It's important to string together some bowl appearances, Joel, and Kill's scheduling approach gives Minnesota a better chance to do so. Kill comes from the Bill Snyder school of scheduling, and Snyder helped build Kansas State's profile by living in cupcake city outside of league play. So there's some precedent. The problem is Minnesota fans saw a similar scheduling approach under Glen Mason, which led to a bunch of mid-tier bowl appearances but not enough success in the Big Ten. Kill needs to have his team ready for the Big Ten, and I don't know if these schedules will do the job. Minnesota's recent schedule addition of TCU for 2014 and 2015 is a good one, and I hope we see more of those games (and, somewhat sadly, fewer games on Aggie Vision).

Marc from New York writes: With Notre Dame gone, who do you think Michigan will play in their night games now, specifically in the next two seasons? I'm not quite sure if the future OOC schedules warrant a Under the Lights III/IV, unless Dave Brandon is willing to play at night later in the season against B1G teams.

Adam Rittenberg: Marc, I hear you, but why does every Michigan night game have to be a huge deal? It speaks to a larger issue I have with the Big Ten and its reluctance to shake up the scheduling approach. Night games are cool almost regardless of the opponent. Michigan should play a Big Ten game at night. I wish it would be Michigan State, but Brandon has his reservations about playing a rival under the lights. It happens all the time in the SEC and Big 12 -- just sayin'. I think Oregon State or BYU could work well in 2015, and I'd expect some exciting additions to the nonleague schedule with Notre Dame moving up. But my larger point is Michigan shouldn't have strict standards for night games. Play Penn State at night, or Wisconsin, or Northwestern, or Nebraska. Night games should be a bigger part of the Big Ten's identity. They are everywhere else.

Buckeye from Columbus writes: Adam, would it be better, in regard to the league's national perception, that Notre Dame blows out Purdue this weekend? I know losing nonconference games aren't good, but wouldn't the league be better off that Michigan beat a good ND than Michigan beat a mediocre ND who barely won/lost to a, so far, terrible Purdue? I know this isn't fair to Purdue fans, but public opinion rarely is.

Adam Rittenberg: I don't know if a Purdue blowout helps the Big Ten, but a Notre Dame win, maybe by 10-14 points, probably does, as Michigan would benefit from the Irish having a strong overall season. The Big Ten wants the profiles of its top teams -- Ohio State, Michigan, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Nebraska -- too look as good as possible come early December. Notre Dame is Michigan's only impact nonleague game, so when we're judging the Wolverines, we want to attach value to their win against the Irish. So yes, beating Purdue is important, but if Notre Dame wins against better teams such as Oklahoma, Arizona State, BYU and, most important, Stanford, that will mean more for Michigan and the Big Ten.

KMan from BMore writes: After the emergence of freshman phenom Christian Hackenberg, do you feel there is a possibility that Tyler Ferguson might transfer? I know the free-transfer period has ended, but (barring injury) I am having a hard time believing he will see meaningful snaps over the last three years of his eligibility. Best-case scenario (from an outside observer) would be Hackenberg starts through his junior year (2015), heads to the NFL, and Michael O'Connor steps in with three years of eligibility remaining, which would take PSU to the end of the sanctions with two top-flight pro-style quarterbacks at the helm. Do you concur?

Adam Rittenberg: KMan, I'm not in Ferguson's head, and he probably wants to see how things play out in the next few weeks, as Hackenberg could struggle when Big Ten play rolls around. But there's a decent chance the scenario you presents ends up being true. If that's the case, you couldn't blame Ferguson for wanting to play elsewhere and get a real chance. He took a leap of faith in picking Penn State without ever setting foot on campus. Maybe that loyalty keeps him in State College, but he's a California kid who left the team this summer to be with his ailing mother and has some strong ties to his local area. Penn State certainly needs Ferguson to stay this season as the quarterback depth is so poor, but it seems pretty clear that Hackenberg is the future for the Lions offense.

Bill from Genoa, Ohio, writes: Adam, I continue to see MSU fans' concerns about their offense and not scoring points. I want to remind them that their school hired Jim Bollman as their offensive coordinator this past offseason. Being an Ohio State fan, and having watched and complained about his and Jim Tressel's play calling for years, I want to tell MSU fans what you are seeing is what you are going to get. Even with a dynamic QB who can make plays 1,000 different ways, Bollman's approach is more conservative than most members of the GOP. He is not innovative and will run the ball to death, even when the run isn't working. I have sympathy for the MSU fans out there, because I think they are better than how their offense has been playing, and I really thought they'd play in the B1G championship this year. So MSU fans, as long as Bollman is in charge of your offense, no matter how good that offense is or could be, get used to averaging points in the mid to high-twenties and don't expect any creative plays to happen, because there is no imagination in the offense right now.

Adam Rittenberg: Bill, I understand your criticism for Bollman, and I admit his hiring didn't inspire much confidence among those who know his background with Tressel at Ohio State. But he's not the primary offensive play-caller. Co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner is, and Warner has been on the Spartans' staff for a while. And while Michigan State's play-calling leans conservative, the problems with the offense go deeper. Quarterbacks haven't improved, receivers continue to drop passes and the offensive line can't take the next step to become an elite Big Ten unit. I'll admit that the decision to flip Warner's and Brad Salem's responsibilities -- Warner now coaches running backs and Salem coaches quarterbacks -- left me scratching my head as almost every offensive coordinator also coaches the QBs. Bollman might be part of the problem in East Lansing, but he's not the biggest issue the Spartans have right now.

Eric from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: I am wondering why the blog is now being written by a lot of other writers besides Bennett and you?

Adam Rittenberg: Good question, Eric. We've expanded our blog staff to include Chantel Jennings, Mitch Sherman, Austin Ward and Josh Moyer. While they'll write a decent amount about specific teams for the Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio State and Penn State team pages, they'll also contribute in the Big Ten space. The idea is to provide a better overall product with more viewpoints and in-depth coverage. The additions also free Brian and I up to work on longer blog features and other projects, both in the Big Ten space and elsewhere. We didn't have this luxury in the previous model because of all the posting demands. The changes should improve the blog and the overall college football coverage we provide. We're excited about it.
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."
The games are finally here, and every Thursday during the season at this time, we'll bring you 10 items to track around the Big Ten.

Let's get to it …

1. Quarterback mysteries solved: We might not get all the answers in Week 1 about the Big Ten's many quarterback competitions, but a few clues should emerge. Three Big Ten teams -- Wisconsin, Penn State and Indiana -- have yet to announce starting quarterbacks heading into the openers. Expect sophomore Joel Stave to lead the Badgers and freshman Christian Hackenberg to take the first snap for Penn State. Indiana's quarterback race has been extremely even, and coach Kevin Wilson isn't afraid to let the starter decision go down to the wire.

2. Coaching debuts: Purdue's Darrell Hazell and Wisconsin's Gary Andersen both have enjoyed honeymoon periods at their respective schools, but they both know the mood can change once the games begin. Hazell faces an uphill climb as Purdue plays the Big Ten's toughest schedule, beginning Saturday on the road against a Cincinnati team that won 10 games last season. Andersen embarks on the unique challenge of blending his philosophy with a veteran team that has won the past three Big Ten championships. Wisconsin will have no trouble with Massachusetts, but keep an eye on how the Badgers' new 3-4 defense performs.

[+] EnlargeJordan Lynch
AP Photo/Alan DiazIowa again starts the season facing Northern Illinois and QB Jordan Lynch.
3. Pivotal game at Kinnick: Iowa's victory in the 2012 opener against a Northern Illinois team that went on to the Orange Bowl proved to be one of few highlights in a highly disappointing season. The Hawkeyes once again kick things off against an NIU squad led by Heisman Trophy candidate Jordan Lynch, who wants to avenge last year's setback. It's hard to call a season opener a must-win, but Iowa needs to generate some positive momentum early before a very challenging Big Ten schedule.

4. Speed trap in Berkeley: Still glowing from a 10-win season in 2012, Northwestern faces several unique challenges in its opener Saturday night at Cal. The Wildcats must contain the "Bear Raid" offense orchestrated by new Cal coach Sonny Dykes. The Bears are a mystery team with a ton of youth led by a freshman quarterback (Jared Goff). Northwestern also must contend with a late kickoff and moved its practices this week from the afternoon to the evening. The Wildcats are even taking naps to prepare.

5. Dontre's inferno: Aside from Christian Hackenberg, no Big Ten incoming freshman has generated more buzz in camp than Ohio State's multipurpose speedster Dontre Wilson. The onetime Oregon commit could be a transformative player for Urban Meyer's offense, filling the so-called Percy position at wide receiver/running back. Wilson should get some opportunities for explosive plays as Ohio State opens the season Saturday against Buffalo.

6. Juco hello: The Big Ten doesn't bring in as many junior college transfers as other leagues, but several juco arrivals could be impact players this season. Nebraska fans are anxious to see if Randy Gregory can be the pass -rushing force they've been waiting for. Wisconsin's Tanner McEvoy fell out of the mix at quarterback but will see time at other positions like wide receiver. Illinois wide receiver Martize Barr provides a much-needed weapon in the pass game for Nathan Scheelhaase. Minnesota linebackers Damien Wilson and De'Vondre Campbell could solidify the defensive midsection. It'll also be interesting whether quarterback Tyler Ferguson logs some field time for Penn State.

7. Oh, Henry: Purdue senior Rob Henry will make his first start at quarterback since the 2010 season (yes, you read that right) on Saturday against Cincinnati. An ACL injury sustained in late August prevented Henry from starting in 2011, and the versatile Boiler wore several hats for the offense in 2012. After beating out Danny Etling and Austin Appleby in camp, Henry guides coordinator John Shoop's pro-style offense into Nippert Stadium, where Purdue aims for a win that would provide "instant gratification," according to Hazell.

8. To the Max: Senior Andrew Maxwell emerged from Michigan State's quarterback morass to claim the starting job, at least for now. But after struggling for much of his first season as the starter, Maxwell needs a strong start Friday night against Western Michigan. Head coach Mark Dantonio is committed to playing multiple quarterbacks early in the season, so Connor Cook should see time against the Broncos. Maxwell must prove he's the top option by showing better command and rhythm with his oft-criticized receiving corps.

9. Let's be Frank: Few Michigan players not named Devin Gardner have generated more positive ink in the offseason than defensive end Frank Clark. The 6-foot-2, 273-pound junior had a strong finish to the 2012 season and could be the pass-rusher Michigan needs to turn a corner defensively this fall. Then again, we've seen certain Michigan defenders hyped up (cough, Will Campbell, cough) and never do much. It'll be interesting to see if Clark sets the tone for a big year Saturday against Central Michigan.

10. APB for playmakers: Other than Penn State and Iowa, the Big Ten actually returns a decent amount of experience at quarterback for the 2013 season. But the league lacks offensive playmakers, especially at wide receiver. Teams like Ohio State, Minnesota, Michigan State and Illinois are hoping to surround their quarterbacks with more options. It will be interesting to see who establishes himself in Week 1 as a go-to option.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Bill O'Brien said Tuesday he will not announce a starting quarterback before the season opener against Syracuse.

"You'll find out who the quarterback is on the first play against Syracuse," he said during his weekly news conference.

The Penn State head coach said early last week that he would announce by the end of that week whether true freshman Christian Hackenberg or junior college QB Tyler Ferguson earned the start. But, by Thursday, he had reconsidered.

He said Tuesday that the two players' youth both contributed toward his change of heart.

"You've got an 18- and 19-year-old guy here. That's part of it," he said. "They just got here."

Ferguson enrolled in January but missed about a month of voluntary workouts due to personal reasons. Hackenberg arrived over the summer because his high school, Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy, didn't allow for early graduation.

O'Brien's comments don't necessarily mean he doesn't know who the starter will be, however. When asked whether the team or staff already knew the starter, O'Brien declined to comment. He simply restated his position that fans and the media would learn of his decision Saturday.

O'Brien initially said Ferguson held the early edge in camp. But, by Week 2, he said the race was too close to call.

Penn State will face Syracuse at 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Bill O'Brien remains "very close" to naming a starting quarterback, and he echoed earlier statements on Mike & Mike by saying a decision between Tyler Ferguson and Christian Hackenberg will come by the end of the week.

"These are two of the best young quarterbacks I've ever coached," O'Brien said Tuesday afternoon from Penn State's practice field. "Tyler is 19 years old and Christian is 18, and I'd say by the end of the week we'll make a decision on who will start the Syracuse game. But I would say both guys will play this year."

O'Brien isn't opposed to plugging in the backup for a handful of plays in the opener either. Although 2012 starter Matt McGloin threw all but eight passes for the Nittany Lions, the head coach said this year's plans would be different.

"The guy who's the starter is going to play the majority of the snaps, but I think it's important when you have two young guys -- it's a totally different situation from last year -- is that whoever the backup is needs to get his feet wet a little bit," O'Brien said. "So why not play him a series or two?"

Ferguson missed about a month of voluntary workouts, but the head coach said the juco QB still boasted the edge during the first week of camp. By the second week, however, Hackenberg had tied up the race. And now, in the third week, O'Brien still said the position battle is too close to call.

The second-year head coach wants to see each quarterback grab more reps these next few days, have the opportunity to throw equally to all the receivers and see how they fare against different looks. He declined to name what distinguishes the two signal-callers, but he said fans and the media should have their answer in the near future.

"It's important for each guy to continue to earn their stripes and continue to gain the respect of his teammates," O'Brien said. "Until I feel really good about where that's at, I'd say it's very close.

"I will name somebody. I'll tell you guys."

PSU Training Days: Selecting a QB

August, 17, 2013
"May the best man win."

That's all offensive guard John Urschel had to say when asked about Penn State's quarterback race. And it's a tight one right now between first-year signal-callers Tyler Ferguson and Christian Hackenberg.

That's the big battle this preseason, the competition that all eyes are on right now. Head coach Bill O'Brien is "pretty close" to naming a starter, and it's a decision all of Happy Valley is eager to hear.

Early in training camp, when the freshmen practice at 7:30 p.m., even the upperclassmen returned to the field to watch Hackenberg throw some footballs.

"The biggest storyline of this team, I would say, got to be our quarterback situation," assistant coach Stan Hixon said.

ESPN took a closer look at the QB battle and how O'Brien is preparing the two as part of "ESPN All Access: Penn State Training Days." The behind-the-scenes program will culminate in a one-hour special at 7 p.m. Tuesday on ESPN. And a five-part series consisting of 30-minute specials will also air on ESPNU starting 6 p.m. Wednesday.

Clips such as this will preview the program and will run up until Tuesday.
We're counting down our rankings of the Top 25 players in the Big Ten for the 2013 season. This list is based on past performance and potential for the upcoming season only. We do not consider NFL potential for purposes of these rankings.

Our next selection wears jersey No. 8 and comes in at the same spot in the rundown ...

No. 8: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State, junior, 6-foot-3, 210 pounds

2012 postseason ranking: No. 11

2012 numbers: Recorded a team-record 77 receptions for 1,013 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns

Why he's here: The Big Ten is hardly a league of star wide receivers, but Robinson proved to be the lone exception during a breakout sophomore season in 2012. He played a major role in Penn State's offensive renaissance under new coach Bill O'Brien, forming the league's most consistent and dynamic passing connection with quarterback Matt McGloin. Robinson was the obvious choice for the Big Ten's Richter-Howard Receiver of the Year award after easily surpassing Bobby Engram's team record of 63 receptions. He led the league in receptions, receptions per game (6.4), receiving yards and receiving touchdowns.

Robinson set the tone in the 2012 opener against Ohio with nine receptions for 97 yards. He recorded four games of nine or more receptions, 10 games of five or more receptions, seven games of more than 80 receiving yards, and two games with three touchdown catches (Navy, Indiana). Robinson finished 33rd nationally in receiving, but had 150 more receiving yards than the Big Ten's No. 2 wideout (Nebraska's Kenny Bell, No. 17 on our list). He's not simply a possession receiver as he can stretch the field and make big plays in the red zone.

After a sophomore season that Robinson downplays as merely "decent," the Lions junior hopes to take his game even further this fall. He emerged as a leader this summer in organizing lifting sessions and on-field workouts. Robinson will be a primary asset for Penn State's unproven quarterback (Tyler Ferguson or Christian Hackenberg) as the Lions' offense tries to continue its momentum from 2012.

The countdown

No. 25: Jonathan Brown, LB, Illinois
No. 24: Mark Weisman, RB, Iowa
No. 23: James White, RB, Wisconsin
No. 22: Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin
No. 21: John Urschel, G, Penn State
No. 20: Tyler Scott, DE, Northwestern
No. 19: Jack Mewhort, OT, Ohio State
No. 18: Deion Barnes, DE, Penn State
No. 17: Kenny Bell, WR, Nebraska
No. 16: Jared Abbrederis, WR, Wisconsin
No. 15: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
No. 14: Kain Colter, QB, Northwestern
No. 13: Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska
No. 12: Spencer Long, G, Nebraska
No. 11: Devin Gardner, QB, Michigan
No. 10: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
No. 9: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State

Hackenberg catches up in PSU QB race

August, 15, 2013
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- True freshman Christian Hackenberg has closed the gap in the Penn State quarterback race.

A week after telling reporters that juco QB Tyler Ferguson held the early edge, Nittany Lions coach Bill O'Brien called the position battle "very even" on Thursday and declined to name a favorite. He also said he was "pretty close" to naming a starter.

"I spoke to both guys this morning and said I couldn't be prouder of where they're at right now and how they worked," O'Brien said during a conference call. "They've both had a lot of good moments. They've both made their fair share of mistakes, but it's very even now. So we'll let that play out for a few days."

O'Brien said during Big Ten media days that he hoped to name a starter midway through camp. If he sticks to that timetable, that means he would name a starting QB early next week.

The Nittany Lions are a little more than two weeks away from their season opener against Syracuse on Aug. 31.

"I don't have an exact date here, but I'm pretty close," O'Brien said. "And the thing about it, too, just so everyone's clear here: Whatever I do here, whoever I name as a starter, the next guy quite obviously has to be ready and more than likely will play this year."

O'Brien reflected back on his time in New England when Tom Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2008 and Matt Cassel took over by leading the Patriots to an 11-5 season. Both PSU signal-callers have to be ready, he emphasized, and he referred to his future QBs as 1A and 1B -- although he didn't really utilize the backup last season. Steven Bench threw just eight passes despite a few blowouts.

Ferguson enrolled early after decommitting from Houston and pledging to the Nittany Lions. Hackenberg's Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy didn't allow for early graduation, so he joined the team over the summer. Ferguson missed about a month of voluntary workouts, however, due to personal reasons.

Penn State season preview

August, 9, 2013
Can the Nittany Lions build off last season and play the role of BCS spoiler? Let's take a closer look at this 2013 Penn State team:


Coach: Bill O'Brien (8-4 overall, 8-4 at Penn State)

2012 record: 8-4 (6-2 Big Ten)

Key losses: QB Matt McGloin, C Matt Stankiewitch, DT Jordan Hill, LB Michael Mauti, LB Gerald Hodges, CB Stephon Morris

[+] EnlargeAdrian Amos
Keith Srakocic/AP PhotoKeep an eye out for rising star Adrian Amos, who will play more at safety this season for PSU.
Key returnees: RB Zach Zwinak, WR Allen Robinson, G John Urschel, DE Deion Barnes, DT DaQuan Jones, LB Mike Hull, DB Adrian Amos

Newcomer to watch: QB Christian Hackenberg. He was the top-rated quarterback in the 2013 class, and ESPN ranked him as the 15th-best high school prospect in the nation.

Biggest games in 2013: vs. Michigan (Oct. 12), at Ohio State (Oct. 26), vs. Nebraska (Nov. 23), at Wisconsin (Nov. 30)

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: O'Brien turned this passing offense around last season with an up-tempo style and an efficient McGloin, who tossed 24 touchdowns to five interceptions. But he'll have to start a first-year QB this season, as none of PSU's five signal-callers -- three walk-ons, two on scholarship -- were on the roster last season.

The race is between Hackenberg and Tyler Ferguson, a junior college player who missed about a month of voluntary workouts. O'Brien plans to name a starter about midway through camp. Whoever it is, he will have to learn quickly for the Nittany Lions to repeat the success of last season.

Forecast: Penn State overcame some huge question marks last year and went on to have a surprisingly successful season, but it's not going to get any easier in 2013.

The defensive front seven is short on depth and bigger on inexperience. Nyeem Wartman, a redshirt freshman, will take over for a Butkus semifinalist at linebacker. The starting DT opposite Jones -- projected to be Kyle Baublitz -- compiled just three stops last season and weighs in at just 281 pounds. A single injury at either spot would be devastating for the Nittany Lions.

On the bright side, there are clearly some strong leaders who could make up for some early missteps. Barnes was last year's Big Ten Freshman of the Year, and he's already one of the league's most feared pass-rushers. Hull is poised for a breakout season, and teammates recently called his offseason improvement the most impressive.

But out of all the defensive stars, Amos might surprise fans the most. He moved from cornerback to his natural position at safety in the offseason, and last year's 50th-ranked pass defense should be better this time around.

On offense, just about every unit has improved, with one big exception at quarterback. It'll be difficult for any newcomer to match McGloin's performance, but there's a strong supporting cast. Robinson is the top wideout in the Big Ten, Zwinak reached the 1,000-yard plateau last season, and the tight ends will play as large a role in this offense as any other team in the country.

In short, like last year, PSU is a bit of a wild card. If it receives strong efforts from its quarterback and the front seven, it should surpass last year's record. If it doesn't, it might be fortunate to get to seven wins.

Patience needed in PSU's QB race

August, 8, 2013
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Jesse James shook his head when asked about the quarterback competition.

He offered a blanket statement of "they're both doing good" before attempting to move on to the next question.

"What's the question you're most tired of today?" asked one reporter.

"The quarterback situation," the tight end said with a slight smile.

[+] EnlargeTyler Ferguson
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicTyler Ferguson has the edge in Penn State's QB battle, but will he hold off Christian Hackenberg?
Defensive backs, offensive linemen, wide receivers -- everyone was posed questions about Christian Hackenberg and Tyler Ferguson, the fresh-faced signal-callers who are battling for a starting job. No quarterback was made available to the media on a cool Thursday morning, so their teammates took the brunt of the prodding.

Did players prefer one quarterback to another? What was it like catching a Hackenberg pass compared to a Ferguson one? Who's harder to read? Who's the better leader? Better yet, who's going to start?

Bill O'Brien had an answer for fans and media alike after three practices: "Just hold your horses."

"They're both talented guys and I just want them to continue to grasp what we're trying to do and play the next play," O'Brien continued, adding he might -- or might not -- name a starter in about two weeks. "You're going to make mistakes. Matt McGloin made mistakes, but he's tough. He was resilient -- and that's what these guys need to do."

No position this season is more important than quarterback. McGloin helped lead a seemingly patchwork offense that averaged 29 points a game last season, a touchdown and field goal better than the previous season with such stars as Justin Brown and Silas Redd.

And with nearly the entire offense returning this season, big things are expected out of the new quarterback, whoever it is. So, not surprisingly, quarterback was the big storyline Thursday -- and it'll continue to be the big story until O'Brien does finally name the starter.

A pack of reporters followed the red jerseys like ants to a picnic basket during an afternoon practice. Neither appeared to throw a pass longer than 15 yards during the 45-minute open portion of practice, and few observations could really be made.

Hackenberg showed a strong arm during the short passes and made a nice roll-out throw at one point, garnering praise from O'Brien. But both quarterbacks also drew the ire of the head coach at different times.

"This is a review!" O'Brien yelled after one miscue.

The most surprising moment from Thursday's media day likely came from O'Brien himself. Last season's ESPN coach of the year acknowledged, after three practices, that Ferguson held the edge. That in itself wasn't surprising -- after all, Ferguson enrolled early while Hackenberg did not -- but it came as a slight shock that O'Brien chose to share that tidbit.

Ferguson could use the confidence boost after missing about a month of voluntary workouts and leaving the door a bit more open for Hackenberg.

Cornerback Jordan Lucas didn't pretend Ferguson had no cobwebs to shake off.
"That's with anything, though," Lucas added. "Like if you're coming back from a month of not interviewing anybody, you need to get your questions right and juice yourself back up a little bit. So, coming from a month off, you need to shake a bit off.

"But it's just like riding a bike. It never leaves."

Hopefully, for Ferguson, that comes back within the next two weeks. O'Brien said he's been impressed with just how quickly Hackenberg has improved from one practice to the next so, although Ferguson holds the edge, that definitely doesn't mean he's a lock to become the starter.

O'Brien will face questions about his quarterbacks every time he speaks with fans or the media. Ditto for any Penn State players. But, for now, the quarterbacks need to show one characteristic: resilience.

And for everybody else? Patience.

Big Ten lunch links

August, 6, 2013
Every Big Ten team has hit the practice field for preseason camp. It's almost here, folks ...
Iowa's season opener against Northern Illinois could be just a blip on the Week 1 national radar, but the game's impact for the Hawkeyes can't be minimized.

Kirk Ferentz's crew comes off of its first losing regular season since 2000 and enters the fall with several glaring question marks, including quarterback. A win against a Northern Illinois program that reached the Orange Bowl last season, has won 23 games the past two seasons and is led by fringe Heisman Trophy candidate Jordan Lynch would boost confidence in Iowa, both inside and outside the program. A loss to the Huskies -- especially in blowout fashion -- could set the course for another lost season.

As The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette's Mike Hlas writes, the Northern Illinois opener is a perception-maker for Iowa.
For the Hawkeyes to restore some luster to their national image, beating Northern Illinois on Aug. 31 would be a good first step. A loss, though, would bring out a lot of sharp verbal and written pitchforks.

NIU is undoubtedly the perception-making game for Iowa this season. What about the other Big Ten teams? I took a look at potential perception-makers around the conference.

I'm a firm believer that perception is shaped early on, so for the purpose of this post, I only considered games in the first six weeks of the season (weekend of Aug. 31-weekend of Oct. 5).

Here are the perception-makers around the Big Ten …

ILLINOIS: Sept. 7 vs. Cincinnati

Tim Beckman's Illini have to show obvious improvement early on to avoid a here-we-go-again mentality in Champaign. Although Illinois must be careful with FCS Southern Illinois in the opener, it has a great opportunity to show things will be different as it hosts Cincinnati, a 10-win squad last season, in Week 2. Poor performances against Cincinnati and the following week against Washington in Chicago would brand Illinois a lost cause once again.

INDIANA: Sept. 21 vs. Missouri

It's a close call between the Missouri game and a Week 3 home contest against Bowling Green, which was a better team than the Tigers last season. But beating Bowling Green likely won't boost Indiana's perception, especially if the Hoosiers fall short the following week against an SEC foe. If Indiana completes non-league play at 4-0, ending with a victory against Missouri, it will be viewed as a potential surprise team entering Big Ten play.

IOWA: Aug. 31 vs. Northern Illinois

See above.

MICHIGAN: Sept. 7 vs. Notre Dame

The Wolverines have beaten Notre Dame in recent years without getting much of a perception boost, but the Irish are coming off of a perfect regular season and a national runner-up finish. This is a big moment for Wolverines quarterback Devin Gardner, who looks for a signature win early in his first full season as a starter. Michigan remains a talented but young team that will need to grow up in a hurry to contend for big things in 2013. The Notre Dame game provides a great chance to do so.

MICHIGAN STATE: Sept. 21 at Notre Dame

The Spartans look for a bounce-back season and need a validating win early on to boost their perception after falling short of expectations in 2012. Notre Dame provides by far the biggest challenge for Michigan State in non-league play, and Mark Dantonio's team tries to end a two-game slide against the Irish after winning three of the previous four under Dantonio. It's a huge opportunity for quarterback [fill in the blank] and a Spartans offense that managed only three points and 237 yards against Notre Dame last season.

MINNESOTA: Sept. 21 vs. San Jose State

The Gophers' non-league schedule is mostly uninspiring, but keep an eye on this Week 4 showdown with San Jose State. The Spartans won 11 games last season under Mike MacIntyre, now Colorado's coach, and boast one of the nation's top quarterbacks in David Fales, who finished third in the FBS in passing efficiency (170.8 rating). Although an Oct. 5 win at Michigan would transform Minnesota's perception, the Gophers must first get past San Jose State.

NEBRASKA: Sept. 14 vs. UCLA

This is one of the easiest picks on the list. Not only is UCLA by far Nebraska's biggest non-league test, but the Bruins appear to be the Huskers' most formidable challenge in the first two months of the season. A Nebraska win would help validate the impressive record the Huskers likely will have when the calendar flips to November. Another loss to the Bruins, who edged Nebraska last September at the Rose Bowl, would raise doubts about the Huskers' legitimacy even if they go on to pile up wins.

NORTHWESTERN: Oct. 5 vs. Ohio State

The Wildcats play two major-conference foes (Cal, Syracuse) in non-league play, but neither game has real perception-making potential. Besides, Northwestern has handled itself well in non-league play in recent years. The Ohio State game likely will be the most-anticipated home game for Northwestern in the Pat Fitzgerald era. Northwestern can transform its perception with a win, while a loss would reinforce the Wildcats as a good program that can't really beat the Big Ten's elite.

OHIO STATE: Sept. 28 vs. Wisconsin

The Buckeyes' non-league slate is pretty uninspiring, and while San Diego State (Week 2, home) or Cal (Week 3, road) could provide a few clues about Urban Meyer's squad, Ohio State will be heavy favorites in both contests. If Ohio State meets its preseason perception, it will handle Wisconsin at home fairly easily in Week 5. A shaky showing or a loss certainly would change the way people feel about the Buckeyes' chances to get to Pasadena, both for the Rose Bowl and for the BCS title game.

PENN STATE: Aug. 31 vs. Syracuse (at East Rutherford, N.J.)

It's a little dangerous to pick the opener for Penn State, which changed its perception during the course of last season after stumbling in its debut against Ohio. But there are new questions about Bill O'Brien's team, particularly at the quarterback spot as Christian Hackenberg or Tyler Ferguson takes control. Penn State faces another transitioning team in Syracuse at a neutral site. A strong performance could propel Penn State to a 5-0 start before Michigan visits Happy Valley on Oct. 12.

PURDUE: Aug. 31 at Cincinnati

The Boilers are one of the Big Ten's mystery teams as a new staff takes control. Purdue faces one of the nation's tougher non-league slates, going up against two BCS bowl teams from 2012 (Notre Dame, Northern Illinois) and another that won 10 games (Cincinnati). A victory at Nippert Stadium in Darrell Hazell's Boiler debut would give Purdue a nice confidence boost and force folks to take notice of the Boilers heading into their Week 3 home showdown against the rival Irish.

WISCONSIN: Sept. 14 at Arizona State

We'll learn a lot about Gary Andersen's Badgers in the first month of the season as they play two extremely challenging road games against Arizona State and Ohio State. Big Ten teams struggle mightily in Pac-12 venues, and Wisconsin's shaky secondary will be tested by quarterback Taylor Kelly and the high-powered Sun Devils offense. A win would give Wisconsin some confidence as it faces untested Ohio State in Week 5, while a loss could signal trouble ahead.
CHICAGO -- Penn State coach Bill O'Brien and his Purdue counterpart, Darrell Hazell, will face the same decision sometime next month: Should I start a true freshman quarterback this season?

It's a daunting and exciting possibility, depending on who you ask. It's also a realistic one for both Penn State and Purdue heading into 2013.

Danny Etling enrolled early at Purdue and put himself in position to compete for the team's top quarterback job following a solid spring. Christian Hackenberg didn't even need to go through the spring to be considered for Penn State's starting job. When camps kick off in August, Etling will compete with senior Rob Henry and possibly redshirt freshman Austin Appleby for the Purdue job, while Hackenberg will vie with junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson in State College.

Both Hazell and O'Brien vow to play the best quarterback, regardless of age, but there are added risks of going with a true freshman, including the impact on the rest of the roster. Will the Purdue locker room support Etling if he beats out Henry, a former team captain and one of the most popular players on the squad? How will a Penn State team carried by veteran leadership in 2012 respond to a quarterback who hasn't played a meaningful down at the college level?

According to players on both teams, they'll be just fine.

"If it is Danny, we'll be behind him," Purdue defensive tackle Bruce Gaston told "We'll be behind whoever, especially if it is Danny because we're not going to let a freshman go in there thinking that he has no support. That's not going to do anything but hurt us in every aspect of the game.

"We have no clue who [the starter is] going to be, but we'll support them."

So will Henry, according to Gaston.

"Rob is one of the most humble people I know," Gaston said. "Rob would definitely not make a fuss or anything. He'll handle it in the most professional way."

Penn State's situation is a bit different as both Ferguson and Hackenberg are newcomers. Although Ferguson went through the spring with the team, players had much more familiarity with Steven Bench, last year's backup quarterback who transferred to South Florida after being told he wouldn't compete for the starting job.

Whoever emerges in camp at Penn State will be a new voice of leadership.

"They're definitely going to need a little bit of help, a little bit of guidance," senior linebacker Glenn Carson said, "but they're both guys that have a lot of confidence, have that swagger that is much needed as a quarterback. I think they're going to be fine. They might need a teammate's helping hand, but I really don't feel like I have to go too far out of my way because they have that confidence built in."

A young quarterback can help himself by reaching out to older teammates, like Minnesota's Philip Nelson did in 2012. Minnesota took the redshirt off of Nelson midway through the season, and the true freshman started the Gophers' final seven games.

"It's easy to get behind somebody who asks for help," Gophers running back Donnell Kirkwood said. "He was new, he was a freshman, Wisconsin was his first start and he was a little shaken up by that, but he took on a leadership role."

Carson has no concern about a divided or apathetic locker room at Penn State, depending on who wins the quarterback job.

"This team understands how important these guys are to us," Carson said. "Even though they're freshmen and they're young, they're just getting into the program, the team really respects these guys and knows how important they are. It's going to be a really big camp for both of these guys.

"They're going to have to truly emerge, not only as players but as leaders so that they really can take the locker room."



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