Hackenberg catches up in PSU QB race

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- True freshman Christian Hackenberg has closed the gap in the Penn State quarterback race.

A week after telling reporters that juco QB Tyler Ferguson held the early edge, Nittany Lions coach Bill O'Brien called the position battle "very even" on Thursday and declined to name a favorite. He also said he was "pretty close" to naming a starter.

"I spoke to both guys this morning and said I couldn't be prouder of where they're at right now and how they worked," O'Brien said during a conference call. "They've both had a lot of good moments. They've both made their fair share of mistakes, but it's very even now. So we'll let that play out for a few days."

O'Brien said during Big Ten media days that he hoped to name a starter midway through camp. If he sticks to that timetable, that means he would name a starting QB early next week.

The Nittany Lions are a little more than two weeks away from their season opener against Syracuse on Aug. 31.

"I don't have an exact date here, but I'm pretty close," O'Brien said. "And the thing about it, too, just so everyone's clear here: Whatever I do here, whoever I name as a starter, the next guy quite obviously has to be ready and more than likely will play this year."

O'Brien reflected back on his time in New England when Tom Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2008 and Matt Cassel took over by leading the Patriots to an 11-5 season. Both PSU signal-callers have to be ready, he emphasized, and he referred to his future QBs as 1A and 1B -- although he didn't really utilize the backup last season. Steven Bench threw just eight passes despite a few blowouts.

Ferguson enrolled early after decommitting from Houston and pledging to the Nittany Lions. Hackenberg's Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy didn't allow for early graduation, so he joined the team over the summer. Ferguson missed about a month of voluntary workouts, however, due to personal reasons.