In the words of the great Yogi Berra, the Penn State quarterback race at the end of the spring seems to be "deja vu, all over again."
In the spring of 2010, three quarterbacks (Kevin Newsome, Matt McGloin, and Paul Jones) entered the open competition to replace Daryll Clark, with a fourth (Robert Bolden) expected on campus in the fall. Newsome was the heir apparent, McGloin the darkhorse, and Jones and Bolden the highly-touted incoming freshmen. By the end of spring practice, no leader had emerged, leading many to speculate that Newsome had the inside track, having spent a year under Clark learning the ropes.
Once Bolden stepped on campus, things changed, behind the scenes at least. He performed well enough in a short fall camp to beat out the other three quarterbacks and earn the opening day starting spot, an honor not bestowed upon a freshman quarterback in over 100 years at Penn State.
A year and six losses later, and Penn State is no closer to naming a starter than it was at this point last year. When Bolden was named opening day starter in 2010, many expected he wouldn't leave that spot for four years. The ripple effect of this would probably mean a transfer or two, but those are the breaks with three highly-recruited quarterbacks on the roster. The thinking was that Penn State had found its quarterback of the future; so long as there was a competent backup or two, just in case, the Nittany Lions could scratch the position off of the worry list and concentrate on other matters.
The circus that was the Penn State quarterback position last year now has dire ramifications for 2011. None of the four quarterbacks have tipped their hands yet, but rumors and speculation swirl as Penn State's spring semester, and the likely decision point for one or more of the quarterbacks, nears an end. Rumors of transfer have circled everyone but McGloin; in the worst-case scenario, the former walk-on from Scranton would be the only scholarship quarterback left on the roster in 2011. At best, only one quarterback departs, leaving Penn State with at least three viable candidates for the position in 2011. With the decision looming, and news expected out of Happy Valley any day, let's take a look at each quarterback, with a brief look back and some speculative looks forward.
Matt McGloin. The redshirt junior entered 2010 as the darkhorse candidate for the starting job, but was also a pseudo-fan favorite as a redheaded, fiery kid with "moxie." He didn't win the job, but took over the top spot when Bolden went down with an injury against Minnesota. Unfortunately, he didn't fare too much better, though he did put together an impressive string in the Northwestern game with consecutive scoring drives, and also showed flashed of promise in the first half against Ohio State.
McGloin ended spring practice atop the depth chart with Bolden. A former walk-on, he is no real threat to transfer to another school, as his ceiling appears to have been reached and it is not very impressive. Sure, he won some games for Penn State, but many fans stop there and forget that McGloin's wins coincided with the running and offensive line games finally coming together. Throw in the awful Outback Bowl performance, and McGloin should not be the Penn State quarterback of the future.
PREDICTION: McGloin stays on the team, but finishes his last two years in backup or mop up duty. His enthusiasm and leadership abilities may be the best among the quarterbacks, but his actual talent at the position has peaked, and 7-6 is not an acceptable peak.
Robert Bolden. Bolden came in as a highly-sought-after quarterback from Michigan, and ended up becoming the first freshman quarterback to start a season for Joe Paterno. He showed his age at times, though playing against the defending national champions in your second career start is not an enviable position. However, once he went down, Bolden could never get back on top, watching the Matt McGloin Experiment for the rest of the season. Adding insult to injury, Bolden never saw a snap in the Outback Bowl, even as McGloin threw five interceptions.
After the bowl, Bolden requested his release, which was denied. The Paternos and Boldens (Rob and his father) seemed to engage in a PR battle of sorts, but cooler heads have prevailed, and Rob went into spring practice with an eye toward getting better. The fact that he requested a release is not exactly comforting, but since then, Bolden has carried himself like a man, supporting his teammates, coaches, and university at every step, and not once saying a bad word about anyone.
Bolden's future is tenuous, at best. He beat all other competitors as a true freshman, so there is no reason to think he can't do it again. But he's clearly looking outwards, and may be already gone in his mind. Add Paul Jones into the race this year after a redshirt campaign, and something will have to give. Bolden appears to be the best technical passer on the team, but also needs to work on his leadership and vocal abilities.
PREDICTION: One of Bolden or Paul Jones will not be with the team in 2011, and the closer we get to Decision Day (whenever that may be), the more I think that Rob Bolden will be back at Penn State in 2011. He has experience and obvious talent, and even his coaches have admitted he should have played more in 2010. If he does in fact stay, look for him to be the opening day starter.
Paul Jones. Like Bolden, Jones came in as a highly-ranked recruit, this time from western Pennsylvania. With a cannon for an arm, Jones had the raw talent, but lacked the ability to grasp the playbook immediately, and took a redshirt in 2010. This gave him an entire year to study the plays, learn the offense, and watch the drama ahead of him on the depth chart unfold.
Jones has been conspicuously quiet throughout this entire ordeal, while continually stating his allegiance to Penn State. During spring practice, Jones has been spending most of his time with the second- and third-string offenses, while McGloin and Bolden split reps with the first team. That can't be good for Jones' faith in his prospects, but with a year of study under his belt, he can be a serious contender depending on what happens with Bolden.
PREDICTION: As stated, either Jones or Bolden will likely be gone by fall practice. In Jones' case, if all the quarterbacks were to stay, and Bolden is once again named starter, Jones would only have one year of separation, not an ideal prospect for a five-star quarterback with Jones' talent. The sad thing is that Jones was one of the vocal leaders of the Class of 2010, committing to Penn State early and spearheading a loaded recruiting class. Jones held offers from Pitt and WVU, both local teams, but speculating on where he ends up is a fool's errand.
Kevin Newsome. A rising junior, Newsome joined Penn State after decommitting from Michigan and signing with the Nittany Lions in the Class of 2009. When Pat Devlin left the team after the 2008 season, fans everywhere worried who would be Daryll Clark's backup in 2009. Newsome put many fears to rest as a four-star prospect from Virginia. By all accounts, Newsome was the primary backup in 2009, putting in valuable mop-up time and entering 2010 as the man to beat. Unfortunately, for reasons that will likely remain a mystery for quite some time, Newsome dropped to at least third on the depth chart in 2010, seeing relatively meaningless playing time in just six games.
Like Bolden, Newsome started looking outwards, only Newsome did it before the bowl game, missing practices and not even traveling with the team to Florida. Many have said that Newsome is too good an athlete to lose, and that a position change could keep him with the Lions, but Newsome has steadfastly said he is a quarterback. Falling behind Bolden and McGloin, and with Jones done with his redshirt year, Newsome has the bleakest prospects out of the group.
PREDICTION: Newsome is as good as gone, spending spring practice buried on the depth chart and giving an emotional interview to Scout.com that led many to think Newsome will be the first to make his decision. Don't be surprised to see him head back to the Virginia area via transfer, but suffice it to say, whomever lands Newsome's services will be getting a great athlete and an even better person.
The position of quarterback was supposed to be a strength heading into 2011, given the 2009 and 2010 recruiting classes. However, a roller coaster ride has done little to resolve anything, and the lack of a unifying leader puts a giant question mark on the team heading into the 2011 season.
In a perfect world, Bolden would stay, once again take over the reins, and Paul Jones would wait in the wings for his one year shot at greatness. In reality, there is a real chance that both Bolden and Jones (and Newsome) will be gone, and the staff will have squandered a great run at quarterback recruiting.
How this plays out will be interesting, if not nerve-racking, to watch. The most important position on a team that was supposed to challenge for a conference and/or national title over the next two years is one of the biggest issues, and the sooner a resolution comes, the sooner the team can start preparing for one of the hardest schedules in the country. Alabama will be ready to play on September 10. Will the Nittany Lions?