Bill O’Brien led the Penn State Nittany Lions to a surprise, 8-win season in the first of four under severe NCAA sanctions. Central to his team’s over-achievement was the turnaround of quarterback Matt McGloin, who flourished under O’Brien’s tutelage.
McGloin surpassed his yardage output from 2010 and 2011 combined, improved his completion percentage and threw 24 touchdowns to just five interceptions en route to All-Big Ten Conference honors. And just as McGloin found his stride, the former walk-on’s eligibility elapsed. His departure leaves Penn State without a clear starting quarterback to open 2013 workouts.
Bill O’Brien was touted for his quarterback coaching when hired to replace Joe Paterno last winter. While the New England Patriots ranked second in the passing game during the 2011 season, his efforts in his first year with Penn State truly demonstrated his coaching acumen.
He was rumored in association with a handful of NFL vacancies this off-season. His professional background makes him an intriguing candidate. Should Penn State continue to excel in the Bill O’Brien era, his stock should only rise.
But O’Brien will have a more difficult road to hoe in the next three years before Penn State regains postseason eligibility. The scholarship reduction limiting the Nittany Lion roster to just 65 renders O’Brien’s program essentially a Championship Subdivision team for the years to come. Every personnel choice the coach makes takes on added significance — both in the short and long terms.
Christian Hackenberg ranked among the top quarterback recruits of 2013, and is precisely the kind of pocket passer who should flourish playing for O’Brien. He begins practicing with with the Lions in the summer, when he’ll join 2012 recruit and reserve Steven Bench and transfer Tyler Ferguson in the competition.
Hackenberg is the most intriguing candidate — not just because he’s a five-star prospect, but playing in 2013 would make him a senior in Penn State’s first season of postseason eligibility. A redshirt could be a difficult sell, though the big picture reward could be two seasons as an upperclassmen captaining Penn State in its first steps to a new era.