NCF Nation: Rob Bolden

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris were both supposed to roll right before attempting a pass during a drill at LSU’s practice on Monday, but Harris ran right up Jennings’ back and disrupted his timing enough to prevent him from even making a throw.

Jennings’ frustration quickly evaporated into empathy, however, because it was only a year ago that he was doing the exact same thing to Zach Mettenberger.

“That’s fine with me,” Jennings chuckled after practice, the Tigers’ second team workout of the spring. “I did the same thing to Zach, so Zach was in the same predicament. I guess I’m like the veteran of the quarterbacks [now]. That’s hard to say coming in when I guess I’m a sophomore now. But I know how it is. You’re not going to be perfect right when you arrive on campus. You’re working to start. It’s all fun; it’s all fine. I’m just ready to get him going and teach him everything that I know -- and I’m still learning, too.”

[+] EnlargeJennings
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesSophomore Anthony Jennings is looking to jump into being LSU's starting quarterback, but he'll be challenged by Hayden Rettig and Brandon Harris.
Jennings put himself on the map as an early enrollee last spring, eventually claiming the Tigers’ backup quarterback job as a true freshman and starting the Outback Bowl in place of injured senior Mettenberger. Harris is on campus as an early enrollee not only in an attempt to learn Cam Cameron’s offense prior to preseason camp, but to try to win the starting job.

Understandably, Harris still has plenty of work to do on that front. He’s only been on campus for two months after all. He doesn’t possess a veteran’s understanding of the offense or a feel for the personnel around him yet. And that’s enough to rattle anyone’s confidence -- even a player whom every recruiting service ranked among the nation’s top dual-threat prospects for 2014.

The constant theme that everyone seems to be reinforcing to the freshman is positivity. Even when Cameron would chastise Harris for reflexively clapping after misfiring on a pass Monday, he'd give his young quarterback a fist-bump moments later in an attempt to encourage him.

“It’s definitely going to benefit him,” said receiver John Diarse, who is in line to start as a redshirt freshman after enrolling early a year ago. “I’ve been trying to talk to him here and there whenever I get an opportunity, just stay encouraging, stay upbeat because everybody can’t do it and apparently you have your opportunity because somebody believes you can do it. So just believe in yourself, stay confident and like [strength and conditioning coach Tommy] Moffitt tells us every day, practice positive self-talk and just believe that you can do it and take your time with it.

“Don’t try to be in a rush, don’t worry so much about the media or just the pressure around you. Just focus on yourself and what you can do.”

The media probably won’t be an issue for Harris. As a freshman, he is off limits to reporters until further notice. His plate is full enough in simply adapting to college life and trying to decipher LSU’s offense -- much less compete against Jennings and redshirt freshman Hayden Rettig.

But with nearly six months remaining until the Tigers’ opener against Wisconsin, nobody is winning the quarterback job now.

“The older guys obviously know cadence, and there’s some comfort there,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “We want to allow a quality competitive environment for Brandon Harris and the other quarterbacks, so we have to bring Brandon to speed, just a comfort of the offense, and then let’s have at it. Let’s see who’s best.”

For now, Jennings wants to prove that he’s more like the player who came off the bench to lead the game-winning touchdown drive against Arkansas than the one who struggled in his first start, the bowl win over Iowa where he completed just 7 of 19 pass attempts for 82 yards and an interception.

“I don’t think that game was one of my best games. If it was, I don’t think I would be starting,” Jennings said, later adding, “I watched [film of the Iowa game] so many times, I don’t think you’d believe it.”

Jennings and Rettig were both in Harris’ position a year ago, so while they both have the advantage of a year in Cameron’s system, nobody has a decided experience advantage -- particularly now that senior Rob Bolden has shifted to receiver in an attempt to earn some playing time.

Everyone in the quarterback room has plenty to prove, which is why Jennings said he has been spending six days a week at LSU’s football building in an attempt to learn as much as possible from his offensive coordinator.

It should be a competition where knowledge of the offense and daily consistency become enormously important factors as the coaches weigh their options at the position. Jennings is in the lead for now, but he knows -- and Miles guaranteed on Saturday -- that the starting privilege against Wisconsin is “going to be given to no one, earned by the one that plays.”

“[Harris and Rettig] wouldn’t be here if they couldn’t play on this level,” Jennings said. “They’re going -- just like I am -- to try to progress every day. Brandon’s throwing the ball well, still has a lot of things to learn in the offense, but I was in the same predicament last year. Hayden’s just learning along with me. He’s throwing the ball well, he’s speaking, he’s vocal. So we’re all trying to get better as spring goes along, and I think they’re progressing rapidly.”
Setting up the spring in the SEC West:

ALABAMA

Spring start: March 15

Spring game: April 19

What to watch:
  • Succeeding McCarron: The Crimson Tide must find the person who will step into AJ McCarron’s shoes. There are several quarterbacks on campus: Blake Sims, Alec Morris, Parker McLeod and Cooper Bateman. The person most have pegged as the favorite, however, won’t be on campus until the summer: Jacob Coker. A transfer from Florida State, Coker is finishing his degree before enrolling at Alabama. But new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will get a chance for a long look at the others this spring.
  • What’s next for Henry?: Running back Derrick Henry has the fans excited after his Allstate Sugar Bowl performance (eight carries, 100 yards), and he brings great size to the position (6-foot-3, 238 pounds). T.J. Yeldon is a returning starter who is more experienced and battle-tested, and there are still other talented backs on the roster, such as Kenyan Drake. But plenty of eyes will be on the sophomore-to-be Henry.
  • Replacing Mosley: Linebacker C.J. Mosley was a decorated star and leader, so his presence will be missed. Alabama has plenty of talent in the pipeline; it’s just not tremendously experienced. Watch for Reuben Foster and Reggie Ragland.
ARKANSAS

Spring start: March 16

Spring game: April 26

What to watch:
  • Keeping it positive: It’s been rough around Fayetteville, Ark. The Razorbacks closed their season with nine losses in a row; coach Bret Bielema is a focal point in the unpopular NCAA proposal designed to slow down hurry-up offenses; and leading running back Alex Collins served a weeklong suspension last month for unspecified reasons. The Hogs could use some positivity.
  • A new DC: The Razorbacks will be working in a new defensive coordinator, Robb Smith. He came over from the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he was the linebackers coach. Smith made a significant impact at his last college stop, Rutgers, where he led the Scarlet Knights' defense to a No. 10 ranking in total defense in 2012.
  • Year 2 progress: Making a drastic change in scheme isn’t easy to do, which is what the Razorbacks tried to accomplish in Bielema's debut season. In the second spring in Fayetteville for Bielema, things should come a little more easily as the Razorbacks continue to institute Bielema's brand of power football.
AUBURN

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 19

What to watch:
  • Picking up where they left off: The Tigers put together a memorable, magical 2013, and with eight starters returning on offense, keeping that momentum going is key. Replacing running back Tre Mason and O-lineman Greg Robinson won't be easy, but there is still plenty of talent on offense to aid quarterback Nick Marshall.
  • Marshall's progress: Marshall’s ascent last year was impressive, but can he continue it? He’s great with his feet and made some big-time throws last year. As he continues to progress as a passer, it should add another facet to the Tigers’ explosive, up-tempo, multifaceted attack.
  • Improving the defense: The Tigers lost five starters from a group that was suspect at times last season. But defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson has a history of improving defenses from Year 1 to Year 2, and it should be interesting to see if he can do that at Auburn.
LSU

Spring start: March 7

Spring game: April 5

What to watch:
MISSISSIPPI STATE

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • All eyes on Prescott: With some strong performances to close out the season in the Egg Bowl and in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, quarterback Dak Prescott certainly played the part of an elite SEC quarterback. He'll enter the season with more national attention after putting together some gutsy performances while pushing through some personal adversity last season after the death of his mother.
  • Malone stepping in: Justin Malone was on pace to start at right guard last season, but was lost for the year with a Lisfranc injury in his foot in the season opener against Oklahoma State. With Gabe Jackson gone, the Bulldogs need another solid interior lineman to step up, and a healthy 6-foot-7, 320-pound Malone could be that guy.
  • Offensive staff shuffle: The Bulldogs added some new blood on the offensive coaching staff, bringing in young quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson, a former Utah quarterback. Billy Gonzales and John Hevesy were promoted to co-offensive coordinators, though head coach Dan Mullen will continue as the playcaller in games.
OLE MISS

Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 5

What to watch:
  • Wallace’s development: Coach Hugh Freeze believes quarterback Bo Wallace will be helped by having more practice this time around; last year, January shoulder surgery had Wallace rehabilitating most of the offseason, and Freeze believes it affected Wallace's arm strength later in the season. A fresh Wallace going into the spring can only help, and as he’s heading into his senior season, the coaching staff will look for more consistency.
  • Status of Nkemdiche and Bryant: Linebackers Denzel Nkemdiche and Serderius Bryant were arrested last month and suspended. Ole Miss is investigating the situation, but their status remains undecided.
  • A healthy Aaron Morris: During the season opener against Vanderbilt, Morris tore his ACL and missed the rest of the season. The offensive guard was recently granted a medical hardship waiver to restore that season of eligibility. Getting Morris back healthy for 2014 is important for the Rebels as he is a key piece to their offensive line.
TEXAS A&M

Spring start: Feb. 28

Spring game: None (final practice is April 5)

What to watch:
  • Life after Johnny Manziel: Texas A&M says goodbye to one of the best quarterbacks in college football history and must find his successor. Spring (and fall) practice will be the stage for a three-way battle between senior Matt Joeckel, sophomore Kenny Hill and freshman Kyle Allen. Only one of those three has started a college game (Joeckel), and he played in just one half last August. Whoever wins the competition will be green, but all three have the ability to run the Aggies’ offense.
  • Retooling the defense: The Aggies were pretty awful on defense last season, ranking among the bottom 25 nationally in most defensive statistical categories. They have to get much better on that side of the football if they want to be a real factor in the SEC West race, and that starts in the spring by developing the young front seven and trying to find some answers in the secondary, particularly at the safety positions.
  • New left tackle: This spring, the Aggies will have their third different left tackle in as many seasons. Luke Joeckel rode a stellar 2012 season to the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL draft. Senior Jake Matthews made himself a projected top-10 pick for this year's draft while protecting Manziel last season. This season, Cedric Ogbuehi gets his turn. Ogbuehi has excelled throughout his Texas A&M career on the right side of the offensive line (first at right guard, then at right tackle last season) and is looking to follow in the footsteps of Joeckel and Matthews.

Over the span of their careers they threw for 48,824 passing yards. There were a total 403 touchdown passes among them, and they won 184 games in which they appeared, including 11 bowls and two national championships. They were, arguably, the most talented and productive class of quarterbacks ever to play in the SEC at one time. And now they’re all gone.

[+] EnlargeDylan Thompson
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesDylan Thompson saw a lot of playing time last season when Connor Shaw went out.
The SEC had to say goodbye to James Franklin, Johnny Manziel, AJ McCarron, Zach Mettenberger, Aaron Murray and Connor Shaw in January. The void they leave behind is enormous, and while some programs already have an idea of who will take their place next season, not all are so lucky.

We’re counting down the five most pressing questions facing the SEC this spring, in no particular order of importance. First, how do you replace all the veteran quarterbacks the league enjoyed in 2013?

When spring camps open over the next few weeks -- the first being Texas A&M on Friday -- that question will begin to be answered. With each snap and each team meeting, leaders will emerge. Some staffs will look for a winner heading into the summer so they can avoid a quarterback controversy come fall, while others will have to sweat it out through the offseason.

Texas A&M: Surprises will undoubtedly occur, as we saw only a few years ago when a scrappy freshman from Kerrville, Texas, beat out the presumptive favorite to land the starting job at Texas A&M. The Aggies stumbled upon Manziel, and Jameill Showers was quickly forgotten. Kenny Hill and Matt Joeckel are this year’s frontrunners, but they’ll have competition in another freshman nipping at their heels in Kyle Allen. The Arizona native is more of a pure passer than a running quarterback, but he has the tools to sling the ball around in Kevin Sumlin’s offense.

South Carolina: Steve Spurrier didn’t mince words when he saidDylan Thompson is “without question going to be our quarterback.” He even asked, “Why open it up when he’s the only one who’s played?” Thompson, a rising senior, doesn’t have the athleticism to break containment quite like Shaw, but Thompson can still move the chains with his feet when necessary. The 6-foot-3, 218-pound South Carolina native doesn’t lack for arm strength and might even have more pure throwing ability than Shaw. But where Thompson must match Shaw is intangibles. There wasn’t a more dynamic leader in the SEC than Shaw last year, and the Gamecocks will miss that kind of will power under center in 2014. While the starting job is Thompson’s to lose, don’t sleep on redshirt freshman Connor Mitch. The former four-star recruit could push Thompson this spring.

Missouri: The race to replace Franklin comes down to one quarterback and one quarterback alone: Maty Mauk. The rising redshirt sophomore showed last season that he can control the offense, starting four games in which he averaged 227.5 yards, 2.5 touchdowns and 0.5 interceptions per game. More importantly, he won three of the four games with the only loss coming in double overtime against South Carolina. He’ll learn from that experience and take over a team that will be moving on from the loss of big-time playmakers Henry Josey, L'Damian Washington and Marcus Lucas. Having the ultra-talented Dorial Green-Beckham back will help, but an arrest on drug charges in January has clouded his future.

[+] EnlargeDavid Cornwell
Courtesy of Cornwell familyEarly enrollee and former four-star recruit David Cornwell will get his shot at Alabama's starting QB job this spring.
LSU: The Tigers faithful got a sneak peek at their next quarterback, Anthony Jennings, after Mettenberger tore his ACL and was forced to miss LSU’s bowl game. The rising sophomore didn’t drop anyone’s jaw against Iowa, but he did just enough, throwing for 82 yards on 7 of 19 passing, while letting his supporting cast do the heavy lifting. At 6-2 and 205 pounds, Jennings has the look of a starting quarterback in the SEC. The former four-star recruit played sparingly in 2013, though, attempting just 10 passes prior to the Outback Bowl. He’ll have to contend with Brandon Harris, ESPN’s No. 37 overall prospect and No. 2 dual-threat passer in the 2014 class, along with rising senior Rob Bolden and rising sophomore Hayden Rettig.

Georgia: Despite what wasn’t a great performance to end last season -- 21-of-39 for 320 yards, a touchdown and an interception against Nebraska -- Hutson Mason is still the overwhelming favorite to replace Murray. Why? Because Mark Richt and the coaching staff have essentially been grooming Mason to take over for years now, redshirting him in 2012 so he would have a year left to play in 2014. Mason was once a three-star quarterback who put up huge numbers running the spread at Lassiter High School in nearby Marietta, and with Todd Gurley behind him, he won’t be asked to do too much his first year starting. While he might be a year away, don’t write off Faton Bauta just yet. The 6-3, 216-pound redshirt sophomore has impressed the staff with his work ethic and could find his way into some playing time.

Alabama: Oddly enough, the quarterback many presume will take over for McCarron won’t actually arrive until the summer. Jacob Coker, the heralded transfer from Florida State, will be a little late finishing his degree in Tallahassee, which leaves a big opportunity for the rest of Alabama’s quarterbacks to make a first impression. New offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will instead have his focus on Blake Sims, Alec Morris, Parker McLeod and Cooper Bateman this spring. Sims, who best fits the mold of a run-first quarterback, has a lot of work ahead of him to prove he can play from the pocket. Morris, meanwhile, didn’t get much time as a redshirt freshman last season and needs to improve his decision-making from the last time we saw him at A-Day. Bateman and McLeod are relative unknowns after redshirting last season, but Bateman, a four-star recruit, does come with a lofty pedigree. The wild card is David Cornwell, the four-star recruit who enrolled in January and will benefit from the fresh start all of the quarterbacks will get under Kiffin.

Looking back on B1G freshman QB starters

September, 2, 2013
9/02/13
9:00
AM ET
It's rare for a true freshman like Christian Hackenberg to earn the starting quarterback job -- but it's not unheard of in the Big Ten.

[+] EnlargeChristian Hackenberg
Nabil K. Mark/Centre Daily Times/Getty ImagesChristian Hackenberg started his Penn State career with a win over Syracuse on Saturday.
We took a look at the Big Ten true freshmen who came before the Penn State signal-caller to see how they fared. We looked at quarterbacks from the past 10 years who started at least six games that first year and offered a rundown of those true freshman seasons, along with how their careers played out.

There's no telling right now where the four-star Hackenberg (Scout grade: 88) might end up. But here's what Big Ten history has to say:

Minnesota, 2012
Philip Nelson, Scout grade: 74

Freshman stats: 75-of-152 (49.3 percent) for 873 yards, eight TDs, eight INTs; 69 carries for 184 yards

Record as freshman starter: 2-5

Freshman synopsis: Nelson was expected to redshirt but, between injuries and inconsistent QB play, his number was called earlier. He started the last seven games and had limited success. But he showed some potential such as the Purdue win, where he completed 68 percent of his passes and threw three touchdowns.

College career & beyond: He started Week 1 and helped lead Minnesota to a 51-23 win over UNLV. He could be in line to become a four-year starter, and all eyes will be on whether he can guide Minnesota to back-to-back bowls.

Penn State, 2010
Rob Bolden, Scout grade: 81

Freshman stats: 112-of-193 (58 percent) for 1,360 yards, five TDs, seven INTs; 30 carries for minus-11 yards, one TD, one fumble lost

Record as freshman starter: 5-3

Freshman synopsis: Bolden became the first true freshman to start a PSU opener in 100 years. He impressed in Week 1 by dominating Youngstown State with 239 passing yards, two TDs and a pick -- but his season would falter afterward. He seemed to regress, and a quarterback battle with Matt McGloin lasted all season. (Actually, for two seasons.) PSU finished 7-6 and lost to Florida in the Outback Bowl. Bolden didn't play in the postseason.

College career & beyond: Bolden transferred to LSU last year but has yet to attempt a pass. He's not poised for any playing time, and rumors have continued to circulate that he's considering another transfer.

Michigan, 2009
Tate Forcier, Scout grade: 81

Freshman stats: 165-of-281 (58.7 percent) for 2,050 yards, 13 TDs, 10 INTs; 118 carries for 240 yards, three TDs, four fumbles lost

Record as freshman starter: 5-7

Freshman synopsis: He got off to a solid 4-0 start and made his mark by throwing a last-second, game-winning TD against Notre Dame. ESPN analyst Matt Millen, echoing a shared sentiment of Forcier's bright future, called him the best QB in the B1G. But his career took a nosedive in Week 5. The Wolverines lost to Michigan State, 26-20, and Forcier would win just one more game -- against Delaware State -- the rest of the season. His early performance still helped him earn a spot on ESPN's All-Big Ten freshman team.

College career & beyond: He was briefly listed as the third-string QB at the start of the next season and saw limited time behind Denard Robinson. He hoped to transfer to Miami (Fla.) after a sophomore slump but ended up at San Jose State. He then withdrew from that school in January, 2012 because of poor academic standing.

Ohio State, 2008
Terrelle Pryor, Scout grade: 93

Freshman stats: 100-for-165 (60.6 percent) for 1,311 yards, 12 TDs, four INTs; 139 carries for 631 yards, six TDs, one fumble lost

Record as freshman starter: 8-1

Freshman synopsis: He came in as a consensus top-five national recruit, and he lived up to expectations. By Week 4, the dual-threat rookie supplanted Todd Boeckman -- a quarterback who took the Buckeyes to the national title game a year before -- and started the rest of the regular season. OSU finished 10-3 and lost the Fiesta Bowl to Texas. He was named Big Ten freshman of the year.

College career & beyond: He helped OSU earn three straight BCS berths before declaring early for the NFL's 2011 supplemental draft when it looked as if he'd be suspended. Oakland gave up a third-round pick for him, and he currently looks to be the backup. He has thrown for 155 yards so far in his NFL career.

Illinois, 2006
Juice Williams, Scout grade: 82

Freshman stats: 103-for-261 (39.5 percent) for 1,489 yards, nine TDs, nine INTs; 154 carries for 576 yards, two TDs, six fumbles lost

Record as freshman starter: 1-8

Freshman synopsis: Williams got the nod in Week 4 and shocked the nation one week later at Michigan State. Coming in as huge underdogs -- about four touchdowns -- Illinois' Williams threw for 122 yards and rushed for 103 to upset the Spartans 23-20. Illinois dropped the last seven games and finished 2-10, but four losses were decided by one score. He was an honorable mention on The Sporting News' freshman All-American team.

College career & beyond: Williams' sophomore campaign was a memorable one, as he beat No. 1 Ohio State -- the Illini's first win over the top-ranked team in a little over a half-century -- and finished 9-4 with a season-ending loss in the Rose Bowl. That was the highlight of his career, however, as he won just eight games over the next two seasons.

Michigan, 2004
Chad Henne, Scout grade: N/A

Freshman stats: 240-of-399 (60.2 percent) for 2,743 yards, 25 TDs, 12 INTs; 55 carries for minus-137 yards, two TDs, two fumbles lost

Record as freshman starter: 9-3

Freshman synopsis: The Pennsylvania native started Week 1 when a sore arm hindered Matt Gutierrez, and Henne never looked back. He picked up national headlines in October after back-to-back 300-yard games. Said Minnesota coach Glenn Mason: "If you didn't know he was a freshman, you wouldn't know he was a freshman." He tied Elvis Grbac's season record for touchdown passes with 25 and, unsurprisingly, made the All-American freshman team. He also led Michigan to the Rose Bowl, in which it lost to Texas, 38-37.

College career & beyond: Henne's college career saw its ups and downs, but he's still at -- or near -- the top of most Michigan passing records. He went 0-4 against Ohio State, but UM still finished in the top 25 in three of his four seasons. Miami selected him the second round of the 2008 NFL draft, and he's now the backup QB on Jacksonville.
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.

 
In a stunning bit of spring news, Penn State announced Wednesday that sophomore quarterback Steven Bench is transferring.

It's a shocking development since Bench was competing for the starting job and entered spring practice with the upper hand on the position as the Nittany Lions' only returning scholarship quarterback. No reason was given for Bench's decision.

Soon after the announcement, Bench tweeted: "I've decided to leave Penn State and go to a school that will give me the opportunity to compete for the QB spot and reach my full potential."

"I have been meeting with all the players this week with my evaluation of where they are at related to football and academics and to discuss what they need to work on this summer," Penn State coach Bill O'Brien said in a statement released by the school. "After meeting with Steven, he informed me he wants to play elsewhere. We want what is best for Steven. I want to thank him for his contributions to the program. We wish Steven the best in the future and will assist him anyway we can."

O'Brien had said that Bench and junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson were even in the quarterback competition after spring practice concluded last week. Both players had similar stats in Penn State's spring game.

"I think both guys did some really good things," O'Brien said after the game. "I've said that all spring. I'd say, no, I'm not any closer as I sit here right now. Eventually, I'll have to make a decision.”

So what changed for Bench, who appeared in two games last year as Matt McGloin's backup? Was it clear to him that he'd fallen behind in the quarterback race? Or was he nudged out the door for some reason? (For what it's worth, Bench tweeted, "What did I do to deserve this?" earlier on Wednesday, though we've seen with college athletes and Twitter that it's often dangerous to read too much -- or anything -- into a single tweet.) A team spokesman said the move was not related to academics and was Bench's decision.

We'll wait for answers as to why Bench is leaving State College. For now, we know that Ferguson is the starting quarterback, and that the possibility of redshirting incoming freshman Christian Hackenberg has grown much slimmer. O'Brien might not have choice but to play Hackenberg right away, as the only other quarterbacks on the depth chart are walk-ons D.J. Crook and Austin Whipple. But it's going to be tough for any young quarterback to master O'Brien's system in such a short period of time.

Ferguson will be given every chance now to prove he can handle the job. Bench, meanwhile, will join Rob Bolden and Paul Jones as once-promising quarterbacks who have left Penn State in the past year.

UPDATE: It appears Bench decided to transfer after learning that Ferguson had won the job. While he told NittanyNation's Josh Moer that the decision wasn't totally based on falling to No. 2 on the depth chart, he also said the following about his meeting with O'Brien:

"It's out of my control, but I wasn't happy with it," he said. "I'm a competitor, so I'm not going to agree with that decision. But, at the same time, it's his decision and it's out of my control. I feel that it kind of left me no choice. I don't want to back anyone up. I want to play. I came here to play football."
Joe Gaglione and Matt McGloinUS PresswireJoe Gaglione and Iowa's staunch defense will try to stop Matt McGloin's surprisingly effective offense.
Image No 1: Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin dives into the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter against Northwestern, his fifth rushing score in six games, as the Lions score 22 fourth-quarter points to rally for a 39-28 win. McGloin celebrates with the Aaron Rodgers championship belt move ... also known as the discount double check.

Image No. 2: After forcing two overtimes behind the strength of its defense, Iowa seals a 19-16 win against Michigan State when sophomore defensive lineman Louis Trica-Pasat deflects an Andrew Maxwell pass, and cornerback Greg Castillo comes down with it for an interception.

If you predicted either of these things happening two months ago, you might put Miss Cleo out of business. Or just hop the first plane to Vegas.

Expectations for both Penn State's offense and Iowa's defense were tempered before the season.

Penn State had the nation's 110th-ranked scoring offense in 2011 and this summer saw its top running back (Silas Redd) and top receiver (Justin Brown) transfer to other schools. Rob Bolden, the team's opening-day starting quarterback in each of the past two seasons, also transferred. The Lions' leading returning receivers were a running back (Curtis Dukes) and a fullback (Michael Zordich), who each had five catches in 2011. Their leading returning rusher, Dukes (237 yards), missed spring practice for academic reasons -- the time when new coach Bill O'Brien installed his NFL-style scheme. Penn State had zero proven offensive weapons entering the season.

Iowa's defense also featured more no-names than usual. The Hawkeyes, who had four defensive linemen selected in the NFL draft the past two years, turned to two seniors with limited production (Steve Bigach and Joe Gaglione) and another coming off of a serious knee injury (Dominic Alvis) to lead their front four. Freshman and sophomore defenders filled Iowa's preseason depth chart, particularly at the line positions. "This is our youngest team," Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz said at preseason media day.

Yet midway through the season, both Penn State's offense and Iowa's defense are two of the more pleasant surprises in the Big Ten. The two units have been instrumental in Penn State's and Iowa's 2-0 starts to league play, and they'll match up against each other Saturday night when the Lions visit Kinnick Stadium.

"I'm not really surprised at all," McGloin told ESPN.com "I knew we had the talent on this team, and guys who were willing to put in the work to get the job done and learn this offense. I'm not really surprised at what I've done, or what Kyle Carter has done, or Allen Robinson or [Zach] Zwinak or [Michael] Zordich or the line."

McGloin leads the Big Ten in passing average (249.8 ypg) and is tied for the league lead in touchdown strikes with 12, four more than he had all of last season as Penn State's primary quarterback. With 1,499 pass yards through the first six games, he needs just 73 more to eclipse his season total from 2011.

Robinson, who had a grand total of three receptions as a true freshman for Penn State last fall, leads the Big Ten in receptions per game (6.8) and touchdown receptions. Penn State's other offensive standouts include Carter, a redshirt freshman tight end with 23 catches for 279 yards; and Zwinak, a former walk-on who had three carries for seven yards last year and now leads the team in carries (68) and rush yards (320). Zordich, a senior fullback, is a more familiar name but someone who hasn't had much of a chance to contribute until this season (37 carries, 167 yards, 10 receptions).

"It's an NFL offense," McGloin said. "This offense definitely gives guys an opportunity to showcase their ability and gives them a lot more recognition."

O'Brien's arrival has modernized Penn State's offense. Iowa, meanwhile, hasn't gone through dramatic scheme schedules defensively, although secondary coach Phil Parker moved into the coordinator role in the offseason following Norm Parker's retirement.

The defense has been better than expected from the start, holding Northern Illinois to 12 first downs and 201 total yards in the season opener. Iowa has surrendered 17 points or fewer in five of six games and allowed fewer than 350 yards in five of six games. While Penn State's offense isn't the strongest unit on its team, Iowa's defense undoubtedly deserves the label as the Hawkeye offense is still finding its identity.

"We're making progress," Ferentz said. "We were hopeful that we could during the course of the season. Some weeks have been a lot better than others, obviously, but the group's growing."

The defensive line, a major area of concern in August, has been a strength. Gaglione boasts eight tackles for loss, four sacks and two forced fumbles, while other linemen like Trinca-Pasat (three tackles for loss, two quarterback hurries) and Bigach (one sack, one forced fumble) have contributed.

Iowa has surrendered just five rushing touchdowns in six games.

"I knew they were going to go in there and be a help to the defense," linebacker Christian Kirksey told ESPN.com. "Coach Ferentz always talks about the next man in. As soon as Joe Gaglione and Steve Bigach jumped in, they were just eager and hungry to help out the defense."

The linebackers also have done their part. Veterans James Morris and Kirksey have combined for two interceptions, two fumble recoveries, three sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss. Anthony Hitchens, a converted safety in his first season as a starting linebacker, leads the nation with 13 tackles per game (78 total).

"Iowa defense is built on one thing," Kirksey said. "Way back when Bob Sanders was here, way back when Adrian Clayborn was here, it was all still the same focus. We all grew around the tradition and we just took it to the field.

"We're a new group, but Iowa teaches the same lessons throughout the years."

McGloin sees it, too, calling the young Hawkeyes "a typical Iowa defense." O'Brien's system certainly isn't a typical Penn State offense, but that has been a good thing.

Although McGloin expected the unit to perform, his contributions as a rushing threat -- he had no rushing touchdowns in 2011 and just two in his career before this season -- are a bit of a surprise.

The only bad news: the discount double check is probably a thing of the past.

"I think I'm done with that," McGloin said, laughing. "That was just a one-time thing."

Paul Jones leaves Penn State program

September, 26, 2012
9/26/12
6:00
PM ET
video Rob Bolden and Paul Jones both arrived at Penn State as heralded quarterback recruits with great expectations. It looks like neither man will fulfill them in State College.

Two months after Bolden bolted State College for LSU, Jones has left the Penn State program for personal reasons, coach Bill O'Brien confirmed Wednesday. O'Brien recently had Jones start practicing more as a reserve tight end, noting that his future at Penn State didn't appear to be at the quarterback position. Although O'Brien kept a package of plays for Jones at quarterback, true freshman Steven Bench passed Jones for the No. 2 spot on the depth chart.

"Paul and I ... have a really good relationship," O'Brien said two weeks ago. "He's a fantastic kid. He's a guy that really has enjoyed being here. He's turned the corner academically. So he just wants to help the team, and he wants to play. After talking with him a few times, this is something he's all for."

Many Penn State fans clamored for Jones to win the starting quarterback this spring, when he competed alongside Bolden and Matt McGloin. O'Brien eventually went with McGloin, a decision that has worked out well so far. Academics had kept Jones sidelined the past two seasons, when McGloin and Bolden shared quarterback duties. Although Jones clearly has talent, he didn't seem to grasp O'Brien's system as fast as many had hoped.

Jones is the latest player to depart Penn State's program, as receiver Shawney Kersey also left recently for personal reasons. Jones had one reception and one rushing attempt this season.
Penn State has absorbed personnel hits on both offense and defense since the NCAA handed down major sanctions against the program last week.

The Nittany Lions' special-teams units won't be spared, either.

Junior Anthony Fera, who handled both punting and place-kicking duties in 2011, will transfer to Texas, colleague Joe Schad and others are reporting. Fera earned second-team All-Big Ten honors (media) as a punter last season, averaging 42 yards per punt with 18 punts inside opponents' 20-yard line. He also connected on 14 of 17 field goal attempts and was a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award.

Fera, a native of Cypress, Texas, earned three Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week honors in 2011 and became the first Nittany Lions specialist since Chris Bahr in 1975 to be the starter for field goals, kickoffs and punts.

Next to starting running back Silas Redd, Fera is the most significant departure for Penn State so far. The Lions likely will turn to sophomore Sam Ficken for place-kicking duties and junior Alex Butterworth to handle the punting, but Fera certainly will be missed, especially for an offense that could have some significant struggles.

Fera is the seventh Penn State player to confirm a transfer elsewhere, joining Redd (USC), linebacker Khairi Fortt (Cal), tight end Kevin Haplea (Florida State), quarterback Rob Bolden (LSU), safety Tim Buckley (NC State) and defensive lineman Jamil Pollard (Rutgers). There likely will be more to come, including possibly top wide receiver Justin Brown, who would be another significant loss for the offense.

There was a lot of excitement in Nittany Nation about the pledges of loyalty made last week by a group of Penn State's upperclassmen as well as several top 2013 recruits. In reality, most of the seniors wouldn't have benefited from leaving State College. Who expected guys like Matthew McGloin or Michael Mauti to leave? All along, the key players to watch were those with multiple years of eligibility remaining.

So far, those are the individuals heading elsewhere.

PSU's Brown still considering transfer

August, 1, 2012
8/01/12
9:25
PM ET
Senior wide receiver Justin Brown said he was still mulling a transfer Wednesday night and wasn't sure whether he would remain at Penn State.

"I haven't made a decision yet," he said in a brief telephone interview. "I just don't know."

Brown said he doesn't have a timetable for his decision, although preseason practice starts Monday. His high school coach, George Kosanovich of Concord (Del.), said Brown fielded calls from about three or four schools, including Cincinnati, Illinois and Oklahoma.

As the Nittany Lions' top returning wideout, Brown's decision could prove critical to Penn State's offensive success -- especially without starting tailback Silas Redd, who announced his transfer to USC on Tuesday.

If Brown leaves, unproven receivers Shawney Kersey, a redshirt junior, and sophomore Allen Robinson -- who combined for just eight catches last season -- would battle for the top spot.

Brown finished last season with 35 receptions, 517 yards and two touchdowns.

Five Penn State players have already announced their intent to transfer since the sanctions: Redd, linebacker Khairi Fortt, safety Tim Buckley, defensive lineman Jamil Pollard and tight end Kevin Haplea. Quaterback Rob Bolden was released from his scholarship prior to the sanctions, according to a source.
The hits keep coming for Penn State, as linebacker Khairi Fortt and incoming freshman Jamil Pollard have decided to go elsewhere.

Fortt, a junior from Stamford, Conn., is transferring to Cal. He was a highly-decorated recruit who played as a true freshman in 2010 and was a member of the linebacker rotation last season. He finished 2011 with 33 tackles, including six for loss, and 2.5 sacks.

He missed some time this spring with a sprained knee but was listed as the co-starter at middle linebacker going into fall practice, along with Glenn Carson.

"Basically I wanted to take a leap of faith and trust in God," Fortt told the Stamford Advocate this morning. "This is what's right for me and my family. ... The way you go through life is the way you handle adversity. The friends I've made here are friends."

Penn State should still be fine with its starting linebackers -- this is Linebacker U., after all -- considering that it boasts first-team All-Big Ten performer Gerald Hodges, fifth-year senior Michael Mauti and Carson, who started every game last season. But Mauti has had recurring knee problems and is no lock to stay healthy. Losing Fortt definitely hurts the depth at the position.

There was a lot of talk at Big Ten media days about who in the league was recruiting Penn State players. But it turns out that the Nittany Lions should have been worried about the Pac-12 more, as Fortt's teammate and fellow Connecticut native Silas Redd moved on to USC on Tuesday.

Pollard, an incoming defensive tackle, has decided to go to Rutgers instead of Penn State. He was rated a three-star prospect by ESPN.com and the No. 37 defensive tackle in his class.

His high school coach, Clyde Folsom, told The News of Cumberland County (N.J. ) that the NCAA sanctions against Penn State were the reason for Pollard's departure.

"We spoke last week when the penalties became public at Penn State," Folsom told the newspaper. "He wasn't sure what he wanted to do; he wasn't in the right state of mind at the time to really make a decision. But over a 48-hour period there were six or seven Division I schools that were interested in bringing him in on scholarship."

If you're scoring at home, five players on the active roster -- Fortt, Redd, quarterback Rob Bolden (LSU), tight end Kevin Haplea (Florida State) and walk-on safety Tim Buckley (NC State) -- have officially transferred thus far. There will likely be more to come. Penn State, which begins practice on Monday, will have to hope the hits stop coming soon.

LSU adds Rob Bolden from Penn State

August, 1, 2012
8/01/12
9:28
AM ET
LSU has added some insurance at quarterback, as several outlets are reporting that former Penn State quarterback Rob Bolden has decided to join the Tigers.

Bolden, a junior, has three years remaining to complete two years of eligibility. He's expected to report to campus today with the rest of the LSU players and begin practice on Thursday. He visited LSU's campus over the weekend.

Zach Mettenberger steps in as LSU's starting quarterback this season. Mettenberger has a big arm and played extremely well in the spring, but he only threw 11 passes last season. Behind Mettenberger, the Tigers have only redshirt freshmen Stephen Rivers and Jerrard Randall.

The 6-foot-3, 214-pound Bolden is a dual-threat quarterback. He started as a freshman for Penn State in 2010 before getting injured and split time with Matt McGloin last season.

The addition of Bolden helps offset the loss of freshman signee Jeremy Liggins of Oxford, Miss. Liggins, a highly-rated prospect, will attend Gulf Coast (Miss.) Community College after reportedly not qualifying academically.
Rob Bolden's long, strange journey has led him to the Bayou.

Bolden, Penn State's opening-game starter at quarterback the past two seasons, will officially join LSU's fall camp Wednesday, according to a report in the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Bolden's exit has been in the works for a while. He asked to be released from his scholarship before the NCAA sanctions against Penn State's football program came down, a source tells ESPN. Bolden was removed from Penn State's official roster earlier this week.

[+] EnlargeRob Bolden
Rob Christy/US PresswireRob Bolden reportedly asked to be released from his scholarship before Penn State was sanctioned.
The signal caller had an odd career at Penn State, to say the least. He claimed the starting job in preseason camp two summers ago and became the first true freshman quarterback to start the opener for Penn State in 100 years. He had mixed results in the first half of the 2010 season, but seemed to be improving before suffering a concussion in a win at Minnesota. Bolden recovered, but was bypassed by Matthew McGloin, a decision that didn't sit well with Bolden or his family. Bolden tried to transfer after the 2011 Outback Bowl, but then-coach Joe Paterno refused to grant him his release. He ended up remaining at Penn State and earned the starting nod for the 2011 season but struggled, eventually giving way to McGloin.

Bolden and McGloin competed for the starting job this spring alongside Paul Jones, but Bolden ended up third on the depth chart. He finishes his Penn State career having completed 165 of 328 passes for 2,045 yards with seven touchdowns and 14 interceptions.

Bolden clearly has talent, but he couldn't find the consistency needed to lead a Big Ten offense. It'll be interesting to see how he fares at LSU, which had its own quarterback troubles last season.

While Penn State fans lament Silas Redd's departure to USC, they likely won't miss Bolden too much after his recent struggles. Still, he's another player to capitalize on the liberal transfer policy, joining Redd, tight end Kevin Haplea (Florida State) and safety Tim Buckley (NC State). Linebacker Khairi Fortt could be the next to depart as he recently visited Cal, and offensive lineman Ryan Nowicki will transfer to Illinois, Washington or Arizona State.

McGloin and Jones enter the 2012 season as Penn State's top two quarterbacks.
1. It wouldn’t be the first time I’m wrong, but I don’t think there are going to be a lot of transfers from Penn State. Backup corner Tim Buckley is going home to North Carolina State. Marquee tailback Silas Redd is being wooed by USC, a top-five team with a gaping hole at his position. Backup quarterback Rob Bolden is talking to LSU about going there to be ... a backup quarterback. Coach Bill O’Brien will lose a few battles, but it appears as if he isn’t losing the war.

2. With the news that Texas and TCU moved their game from Thanksgiving Saturday to Thanksgiving Day, we may have seen the rebirth of a rivalry. Texas refused to continue to play Texas A&M, it’s Thanksgiving Night rival, when the Aggies bolted for the SEC. TCU, a new member of the Big 12, and Texas once enjoyed a fierce rivalry. In 1959 and again in 1961, the Horned Frogs knocked off the highly ranked Longhorns and eliminated them from the national title race. Let’s hope both sides have a long memory.

3. Michael Dyer left Auburn under a cloud and resurfaced at Arkansas State, where former Tigers offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn is the new head coach. Dyer already has been booted for violating team rules, which means he’ll fall farther down the college football ladder. But that doesn’t mean the NFL won’t find him. The NFL will give anyone with Dyer’s talent a look and maybe even a third chance.

Bill O'Brien has done a good job winning over Penn State fans the past few months.

He could have scored a few more points with the base Friday by announcing Paul Jones as the Nittany Lions' starting quarterback for the 2012 season. Jones is a fan favorite for two main reasons:

1. He looks like a talented player.

2. Penn State fans are tired of the other options.

While Jones could be the long-term answer for Penn State, the best thing he had going for him, like many backup quarterbacks, is that the men in front of him have struggled. Penn State fans had seen enough bad decisions and interceptions from Rob Bolden, and they didn't feel a whole lot better about Matthew McGloin. Jones, who has had academic issues the past two seasons, has yet to appear in a game, giving him an air of mystery that gets people excited about his potential.

McGloin's career numbers aren't overly inspiring: 10 starts, 243-for-448 passing (54.2 percent), 22 touchdowns, 14 interceptions. But unlike Jones, he has played a significant amount of football in the Big Ten. And, unlike Bolden, he has performed decently for stretches and not constantly hurt his team with mistakes.

O'Brien was ultimately left to choose between experience (McGloin) and potential (Jones). Factor in the complex, straight-from-the-NFL offense O'Brien intends to run this fall, and McGloin became the best option.

Rather than make a popular decision, O'Brien made a sensible one Friday in announcing McGloin as Penn State's starting quarterback entering the season. Jones will be the backup, while Bolden, the team's opening-day starter the past two seasons, slips to No. 3 on the depth chart. All three men competed for the job this spring.

[+] EnlargeMatt McGloin
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarPenn State coach Bill O'Brien has indicated Matthew McGloin has the best grasp of his complex offense.
McGloin might not have All-Big Ten skills, but he's a smart guy who has been in the fire. He also doesn't lack confidence, and won't get down on himself if he struggles early. Jones could be a very effective quarterback down the line -- perhaps even this season if things go badly for McGloin -- but to trot him out there for the opener in this type of offense is asking for problems.

O'Brien cited McGloin's consistency during spring practice as a primary reason to give him the nod. I thought it was telling what O'Brien told me about his quarterbacks when I visited State College in April.
McGloin: "He's a bright guy who understands our offense right now. He's doing a decent job of operating the huddle and things like this."
Jones: "He's picking it up and shows flashes of being a really good quarterback. When guys ask good questions, which Paul does, Paul asks a lot of good questions, you understand that they are getting it, to a certain degree. They all have good questions."

Translation: McGloin gets it right now better than the others. Jones is taking the right steps toward that point, but he's not there yet. McGloin gives us the best chance to win.

McGloin should operate on a short leash, and O'Brien should try to get Jones in games early this fall. It's imperative that Jones gets opportunities, even if it's a trial-and-error situation.

As for Bolden, rumored to have left the team last month, it will be interesting to see what his future holds. O'Brien said Bolden will continue to work out with the team this summer. The coaches are excited about incoming quarterback recruit Steven Bench, and Penn State has a verbal commitment from standout recruit Christian Hackenberg for 2013. While Bolden gives Penn State another option at quarterback, you have to wonder whether he'd be better served at another position.

O'Brien also announced Friday that cornerback Curtis Drake is no longer with the program and won't return. The coach didn't specify a reason for Drake's departure. Drake, who moved from wide receiver to cornerback this spring, was involved in a locker-room scuffle with McGloin in December that left McGloin concussed and unable to play in the TicketCity Bowl.

SPONSORED HEADLINES