While it may not be near as publicized or popular as some of the other contests to open the season next week, Penn State and Syracuse opening up against one another in Metlife Stadium should still be a fun one to watch. It’s also not one that’s short of any intrigue or stories.
Scott Shafer begins his first season as head coach of the Syracuse Orange as they begin their first year as a card-carrying member of the ACC. He’s bringing a more fast-paced offensive style to the Orange, something that this program traditionally isn’t known for. This game right around their back yard to ring in this new era is perfect for this program as we kick off the 2013 season.
On the other side, Bill O’Brien is entering his second season leading a Penn State Nittany Lions squad aiming to stay near the top of the heap, despite being hampered by NCAA sanctions. They shocked everyone last season by going 8-4 with a somewhat depleted sqaud, and have continued to amaze by enjoying unexpected recruiting success.
These are two programs that both seem headed in a good direction with their head coaches, coaching staff and personnel.
The two programs also share a similar, possibly season-defining issue–neither team definitively knows who their QB is as the season rapidly approaches.
Both coaches have been entrenched in deciding a QB battle that has taken them through the summer, all the way up to the mere week before the season starts and they matchup on the field against one another. As recently as this week, both coaching staffs have alluded to the idea that a two-QB system may indeed be a possibility, or–at the very least–this high-profile matchup may indeed be the final, deciding factor.
O’Brien has to decide between two talented gunslingers in JUCO transfer Tyler Ferguson and highly touted true freshman Christian Hackenberg. Ferguson has been on campus a bit longer than Hackenberg has, yet both have shown great command of the offense so far throughout fall camp. While O’Brien did state yesterday that he will have a starter named by the end of this week, he also steered the way of mentioning that it’s possible that we see both on the field next Saturday.
“There will be a guy who runs out there and starts the first game and the guy that’s the starter is going to play the majority of the snaps,” O’Brien said. “The guy that’s the starter is going to be the starter but I think it’s important when you have two young guys that it’s a totally different situation than last year.
To me, that certainly at least toys with the notion that by “starter”, O’Brien means that one will start the game, but there’s a good chance that guy may not finish it.
Syracuse finds themselves in a similar situation with incoming Oklahoma Sooners transfer Drew Allen and third-year sophomore Terrel Hunt. When it was announced that Allen would be making the move from Norman, it was wildly assumed that his Big 12 roots would immediately thrust him into a starting role.
Well, no one really told Hunt that. With Allen not on campus yet, Hunt commanded the offense well in the spring game, and has continued to impress throughout camp for the Orange and Shafer. While Shafer has expressed his desire to have one clear-cut starter by next week, Syracuse QB coach Tim Lester may not see that wish coming to fruition.
“There has not been a timeframe just because no one’s falling off the wagon,” Lester said. “Everyone keeps coming back and playing well. Even if someone has a bad day, they come back and have a good one the next.
“I’d be surprised if they both didn’t take a snap at some point.”
Two teams are going to take the field against each other next Saturday on the turf at Metlife Stadium, neither of which are 100% certain whom their signal caller is. By the time the contest is over though, either one or both may know, because this game is shaping up to be a nationally-televised quarterback competition.
Jack is a College Football Columnist for Saturday Blitz. Follow Jack on Twitter @JackJ14CFB