"I'd say by the end of the week we'll probably make a decision. But whatever we do we'll do what's best for the team. We have two really talented guys there,” he said, per ESPN.
Just in time, too, as the Nittany Lions prepare for their season opener against Syracuse on August 31.
Replacing a player like quarterback Matt McGloin, who excelled in O’Brien’s system a season ago, may not seem like a desirable circumstance. But O’Brien proved his worth at cultivating talent at the position after McGloin’s breakout season—seemingly from nowhere.
After underperforming in Joe Paterno’s offense for two seasons, McGloin exploded in 2012, nearly doubling his statistical output from the previous two seasons. His most impressive improvement was in the turnover ratio. McGloin threw a career-best 24 touchdowns and surrendered just five interceptions.
O’Brien now has the chance to groom a young quarterback that he can employ for multiple seasons in his pro-style offense. Other than touting the coach for his system and effect on his players, there's plenty to be hopeful about the quarterback situation this season. The Nittany Lions’ top job has come down to two very promising quarterbacks vying for the starting nod.
The first contender we’ll discuss is junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson, who enrolled early in January to get a head start with the playbook. Despite missing a month of voluntary workouts, Ferguson came in and impressed due to his familiarity with the system and receivers. After the first week of camp he won the competition, O’Brien said, per ESPN’s Josh Moyer (ESPN Insider required).
He has the measurables of a true pro-style quarterback, too. At 6’3”, 213 pounds, Ferguson will be able to operate out of the pocket to see coverages and find open receivers. O’Brien gave him—and true freshman Christian Hackenberg, his competitor—rave reviews, calling them athletic guys who can “really throw the football,” according to Dustin Hockensmith of PennLive.com.
Hackenberg has made progress throughout the summer and has caught up in the race. O’Brien said the youngster won the second week of camp after receiving more time with the first team, according to Moyer.
He’s also no slouch physically. Much like Ferguson, the 6’4”, 212-pounder fits the mold of a true pocket passer. Hackenberg was also very highly regarded coming out of high school, earning the 15th spot on the 2013 ESPN 300 recruiting rankings.
One thing that is certain between these two is that O’Brien is going to have a very difficult decision to make by the end of the week. Even after one of them captures the job, the coach is planning to utilize them both on the field this season, per Moyer:
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. So why not play him a series or two?
It’s clear that O’Brien is doing his due diligence before naming a starter. It’s also clear that, like in most college football programs, this decision will not spell doom for the loser. Both will be better for the competition and so will the Nittany Lions on opening day and in the event their starter is forced to miss any time or struggles this season.