The Associated Press
STATE COLLEGE —
Coach Bill O’Brien didn’t need to be asked the question. He knew everyone wanted to hear about his decision regarding Penn State’s Week 1 starting quarterback, so he opened his weekly press conference with the hot topic, before anyone could even ask about it.
Not that he answered the question, or anything, but he did broach the subject at least.
“I want to address the quarterback situation. I feel like what I try to do every week, along with our staff, is do what’s best for our football team,” O’Brien said, “and, as of right now, you’ll find out who the quarterback is on the first play of the game.”
O’Brien and the Nittany Lions open up a season of promise Saturday against Syracuse at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., and the quarterback situation remains unsettled – at least in the public eye – with five days before kickoff. On Monday, when Penn State released its depth chart, it listed sophomore Tyler Ferguson or freshman Christian Hackenberg.
“Believe me, I’m not trying to diminish the importance of that position and what it means to this football program and what it means to our fans,” O’Brien said. “But I want to do what’s best for our players and what’s best for our football team, and so that’s what I’m going to do on that.”
Last year, O’Brien tabbed Matt McGloin, a seasoned if not unspectacular quarterback, who led Penn State to an 8-4 record – including a 6-2 mark in the Big Ten. McGloin, a fifth-year senior then, was the right person for the right time, and Penn State responded under his tutelage. The Nittany Lions rallied to win eight of 10, in fact, after an 0-2 start.
This year? Completely different deal. Inexperience is going to rule the day, regardless of O’Brien’s decision.
“That’s part of it. You’ve got an 18- and a 19-year old guy here. They basically just got to Penn State,” O’Brien said. “Christian got here a little over a month ago and Tyler has only been in since January. Last year, we had a quarterback who had been through a lot here at Penn State, he was going into his fifth year, it was a totally different story last year.
“Again, it’s more about what’s best for the team. The team understands the direction we’re headed and that’s what’s important.”
For now, what’s also important is prepping for a new-look Syracuse team that is coming off an 8-5 season.
“I don’t really think they know what we’re going to,” O’Brien said. “They’re a very, very good opponent. I think it’s important to do what’s best for your football team, especially going into the first game.”
One thing is for sure. After an impressive rookie season that eased the doubts of many, the focus is off O’Brien this year. In one season, he proved how valuable he can be this rebuilding program.
“This time last year was a blur. I was trying to do as good a job as I could with our staff to keep our team together and get them ready for the first game,” he said. “Last year is last year and this is a new year. Hopefully, personally, I’ve done enough in the offseason to really study what we do, how we practice, how we lift weights, how we condition, how I call plays, what we’re doing on defense and how to improve our special teams.
“Hopefully, you’ll see some improvements.”
As was the case last year, every time the new Nittany Lions step on the field in a national setting – like this one in a stadium that will house the Super Bowl in February – it’s an opportunity for the program to show itself to the world. It’ll also be an opportunity to showcase O’Brien’s progress in heavily recruited New Jersey.
“As a program, it’s important for a lot of things to be understood here. Playing at MetLife Stadium means a lot to our fans. We have close to 40,000 alums in that area and we have 12 guys on our team from New Jersey. Playing in MetLife Stadium is just fantastic for Penn State,” O’Brien said. “I hope it would be close to a sellout by Saturday. Penn State and Syracuse is a traditional rivalry that hasn’t been played in a few years.”
The Orange, who join the ACC this season, defeated West Virginia, 28-15, last year in the Pinstripe Bowl, and this will be the beginning of a two-game run vs. the Big Ten. Next week, the Orange will meet Northwestern.
Not much is expected of Syracuse in their first season in a new league. But O’Brien’s preparation is unfazed, either way.
“One of the things that we’ll talk about constantly is the beginning of the game, how we’re going to start the game. Keep playing. Keep fighting,” he said. “That’s what Penn State is all about.
“Hopefully, we understand that when the game rolls around, and we’re ready to go.”