Bill O'Brien has done a good job winning over Penn State fans the past few months.
He could have scored a few more points with the base Friday by announcing Paul Jones as the Nittany Lions' starting quarterback for the 2012 season. Jones is a fan favorite for two main reasons:
1. He looks like a talented player.
2. Penn State fans are tired of the other options.
While Jones could be the long-term answer for Penn State, the best thing he had going for him, like many backup quarterbacks, is that the men in front of him have struggled. Penn State fans had seen enough bad decisions and interceptions from Rob Bolden, and they didn't feel a whole lot better about Matthew McGloin. Jones, who has had academic issues the past two seasons, has yet to appear in a game, giving him an air of mystery that gets people excited about his potential.
McGloin's career numbers aren't overly inspiring: 10 starts, 243-for-448 passing (54.2 percent), 22 touchdowns, 14 interceptions. But unlike Jones, he has played a significant amount of football in the Big Ten. And, unlike Bolden, he has performed decently for stretches and not constantly hurt his team with mistakes.
O'Brien was ultimately left to choose between experience (McGloin) and potential (Jones). Factor in the complex, straight-from-the-NFL offense O'Brien intends to run this fall, and McGloin became the best option.
Rather than make a popular decision, O'Brien made a sensible one Friday in announcing McGloin as Penn State's starting quarterback entering the season. Jones will be the backup, while Bolden, the team's opening-day starter the past two seasons, slips to No. 3 on the depth chart. All three men competed for the job this spring.
McGloin might not have All-Big Ten skills, but he's a smart guy who has been in the fire. He also doesn't lack confidence, and won't get down on himself if he struggles early. Jones could be a very effective quarterback down the line -- perhaps even this season if things go badly for McGloin -- but to trot him out there for the opener in this type of offense is asking for problems.
O'Brien cited McGloin's consistency during spring practice as a primary reason to give him the nod. I thought it was telling what O'Brien told me about his quarterbacks when I visited State College in April.
McGloin: "He's a bright guy who understands our offense right now. He's doing a decent job of operating the huddle and things like this."
Jones: "He's picking it up and shows flashes of being a really good quarterback. When guys ask good questions, which Paul does, Paul asks a lot of good questions, you understand that they are getting it, to a certain degree. They all have good questions."
Translation: McGloin gets it right now better than the others. Jones is taking the right steps toward that point, but he's not there yet. McGloin gives us the best chance to win.
McGloin should operate on a short leash, and O'Brien should try to get Jones in games early this fall. It's imperative that Jones gets opportunities, even if it's a trial-and-error situation.
As for Bolden, rumored to have left the team last month, it will be interesting to see what his future holds. O'Brien said Bolden will continue to work out with the team this summer. The coaches are excited about incoming quarterback recruit Steven Bench, and Penn State has a verbal commitment from standout recruit Christian Hackenberg for 2013. While Bolden gives Penn State another option at quarterback, you have to wonder whether he'd be better served at another position.
O'Brien also announced Friday that cornerback Curtis Drake is no longer with the program and won't return. The coach didn't specify a reason for Drake's departure. Drake, who moved from wide receiver to cornerback this spring, was involved in a locker-room scuffle with McGloin in December that left McGloin concussed and unable to play in the TicketCity Bowl.