While the news of Penn State sophomore quarterback Steven Bench’s decision to transfer caught me off guard at first, it makes more and more sense when you think about it.
Bench informed Bill O’Brien of his decision to transfer after O’Brien informed him that junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson will battle incoming freshman Christian Hackenberg, the nation’s top signal caller, this summer for the starting job. And with Ferguson having three years of eligibility left there was little to no chance of Bench ever seeing meaningful playing time.
Bench’s decision to transfer was a smart one on his part because he will be able to go somewhere and play right away thanks to the ludicrous free agency rules the NCAA implemented when it handed down its ridiculous sanctions last summer in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. There will be no sitting out a year for Bench, who most likely will end up at a southern school.
The fact that Bench didn’t win the starting job coming out of spring practice, where he split first-team reps with Ferguson, wasn’t really surprising. O’Brien was going to give Hackenberg a shot to play this fall no matter how well Bench and/or Ferguson played this spring. The fact that Ferguson is ahead of Bench coming out of the spring is a bit surprising since Bench has been on campus since last June, but Ferguson is bigger, stronger and probably has a bit more natural ability as a thrower than Bench while Bench might hold a small edge in athleticism.
The biggest issue for Penn State is Bench’s transfer, which will happen at the end of the spring semester in early May, leaves the Nittany Lions with just two scholarship quarterbacks. Penn State played all last season with just two scholarship QBs, but just like at many positions the Lions didn’t suffer any injuries that forced an inexperienced player into action. Bench did see some time in the first half against Virginia when Matt McGloin banged his elbow, but McGloin returned in the second half.
What Bench’s departure does do is cement that the Nittany Lions will recruit a quarterback for their 2014 class.
The presence of Hackenberg, who I expect to beat Ferguson out for the starting gig, might scare off some prospects, but any incoming QB will be two years behind Hackeberg assuming that player redshirts as a true freshman. The only available quarterback who has an offer from pro-style prospect Michael O’Connor, a 6-foot-4, 233-pounder who also has offers from Michigan State, Rutgers and Vanderbilt among others. O’Connor is interested in Penn State and that only has to strengthen now there are just two scholarship QBs on the roster.