At most positions in football, competition is a good thing. Fans and coaches alike love to see players battling it out with teammates in practice for coveted starting positions, pushing each other and making each other better in the process. One player can start one week and another the next, and most of the time, most fans and media won't make a big deal about it all.
When discussions turn to the quarterback position, though, things change. Fans and media suddenly become galvanized by a "quarterback controversy" and disputes over who should be the starter. Nowhere is that more perfectly illustrated than at Penn State, where there's a "controversy" brewing between Matthew McGloin and Robert Bolden.
Bolden, a freshman, started the season at quarterback for Penn State and had his ups and downs. He played well against weaker defenses from Youngstown State, Temple and Kent State, but struggled in games against tougher opponents like Alabama, Iowa and Illinois.
McGloin took over the starting job after Bolden went down with a concussion against Minnesota. The former walk-on then led Penn State to a victory over the Golden Gophers in Bolden's absence, before playing well in wins over Michigan and Northwestern. Disaster struck on Saturday at Ohio State, though, when McGloin lived up to his "McFavre" label and tossed two interceptions returned for touchdowns in a 38-14 loss to Ohio State.
The question now is obviously who should Penn State's guy be in the Lions' final two regular season games and bowl game, but the answer is hardly clear. Both have strengths and weaknesses, and it's hard to say who is the best overall.
On the positive end, Bolden, a highly regarded prospect coming out of high school likely has a better skill set than McGloin. He's been tested in some key situations against good defenses already this season, and already looks confident in the pocket as a true freshman. McGloin, meanwhile, is a bit of a loose cannon. While average to below average Michigan and Northwestern defenses masked some poor decisions, many began to question the "McFavre" label McGloin had earned, but against Ohio State, his tendency to make risky throws led to disastrous results.
On the flip side, Bolden doesn't seem to be prepared to lead the team. Even with the skill, he doesn't seem comfortable calling out older teammates and mixing things up with the coaching staff. And McGloin, for all his shortcomings skill-wise, appears to have leadership qualities that inspire the teammates around him to play better and attack defenses with attitude.
This is why it's probably prudent to give both guys equal playing time the rest of the way. Penn State has three games left to get better for 2011, and their championship aspirations are gone. Penn State shouldn't punt on the season, but it's time to start thinking about next year, when the Lions figure to be one of the stronger teams in the Big Ten. Penn State has clearly made progress in many areas, from special teams to the defensive front to the offensive line. It's time to see how much both Bolden and McGloin can grow from here, too.
Sticking with one of Bolden and McGloin does little for the other. Allowing them to both establish some momentum heading into a key offseason is the best course for all involved. Penn State needs to embrace competition, not controversy.