The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Sports

August 30, 2013

QBs remain a mystery for Penn St., Syracuse

NEW YORK — The much-anticipated unveilings should be done by the end of the first quarter between Penn State and Syracuse.

The Nittany Lions and Orange will finally reveal their starting quarterbacks today at MetLife Stadium.

For Penn State, it’ll be either junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson or freshman Christian Hackenberg. Syracuse will trot out either Oklahoma transfer Drew Allen or sophomore Terrell Hunt.

Who starts might not be who finishes, and Nittany Lions coach Bill O’Brien and first-year Orange coach Scott Shafer have each suggested they could play both of their quarterbacks in Game 1.

But there will be no chance to ease in the newbies in a tough nonconference opener.

“It’s not just the quarterback position,” Penn State coach Bill O’Brien said. “This is a big game.  You’re playing a game in MetLife Stadium. You’ve been waiting for this game for a long time, both teams.”

O’Brien and the Nittany Lions are trying to follow-up an 8-4 season, the program’s first under heavy NCAA sanctions that include a four-year postseason ban and dramatic scholarship limitations.

Shafer also has a hard act to follow. He replaces Doug Marrone, who righted a listless program and guided Syracuse to bowl victories two of the past three seasons before shuffling off to Buffalo to coach the Bills. Shafer has some retooling to do, but the Orange begin their first season in the Atlantic Coast Conference with legitimate postseason hopes.

Five more things to know about the renewal of the Penn State-Syracuse rivalry:

So about those quarterbacks? If the fans had a say, Penn State would probably start Hackenberg and Syracuse would go with Allen. While Ferguson and Hunt have good credentials, the scouting reports suggest Hackenberg and Allen have the higher ceilings. Hackenberg was one of the top quarterback recruits in the country when he committed to Penn State. After the sanctions hit, there was concern Hackenberg would find another place to play. Getting him onboard was one of O’Brien’s biggest victories so far. Allen is a graduate transfer, who wanted a clearer path to playing time as a senior.

So he left Norman, Okla., for upstate New York for a chance to replace the departed Ryan Nassib. Landing a one-time hot high school prospect has Orange supporters pumped.

Running men. Both teams seem prepared to take some of the heat off their new quarterbacks with the running game. The Orange have one of the better tailback duos in the ACC, if not the country, in Jerome Smith (1,171 yards rushing last season) and Prince-Tyson Gulley (830 and 11 touchdowns). Penn State has its leading rusher back, Zach Zwinak (1,000 yards).

Deion the disruptor. Penn State defensive end Deion Barnes was the Big Ten freshman of the year in 2012, leading the team with six sacks and 10 tackles for loss. The Syracuse tackles, who will be largely responsible for keeping Barnes in check, are junior Sean Hickey on the left side and sophomore Ivan Foy on the right. Both have limited starting experience at their current positions.

Moving up. Shafer was Syracuse’s defensive coordinator for four years before being promoted.

Now, Chuck Bullough (most recently an assistant with the Browns) is running the defense. Don’t expect things to change much. The Orange are a bit undersized at linebacker, but they do a good job in the front seven of getting though creases and into the backfield.

History lesson. Syracuse and Penn State have played 70 times. They met every year from 1944-90, but only twice since Penn State joined the Big Ten in 1993. The Nittany Lions are 42-23-5 against Syracuse, including easy victories in 2008 and 2009 by a combined 83-20. This game is a one-off, part of Syracuse’s push to make its presence felt in the New York metropolitan area, where so many of its alums live.

“Bright lights. Big stage,” Syracuse linebacker Marcus Spruill said. “We’ve just got to go get them.”

The Orange and Nittany Lions aren’t scheduled to play again until a home-and-home in 2020 and ‘21.

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