Bench's exit adds mystery
Somehow, Penn State's quarterback race got harder to handicap at the same time the field got thinner Wednesday.
Steven Bench, a sophomore-to-be from Georgia who started Saturday's Blue-White game, announced he was leaving the program, apparently after finding out where he stood in a meeting with coach Bill O'Brien.
"I've decided to leave Penn State and go to a school that will give me the opportunity to compete for the QB spot and reach my full potential,'' Bench said on Twitter Wednesday evening.
Only reasonable translation: That opportunity did not exist in Happy Valley.
O'Brien is holding one-on-one meetings with all his players this week and into next.
"After meeting with Steven, he informed me he wants to play elsewhere,'' O'Brien said in a press release.
There was no inkling Saturday. O'Brien went to considerable lengths to manage the message of a very close competition between Bench and junior-college transfer Tyler Ferguson, with blue-chip freshman Christian Hackenberg joining the field this summer.
Neither Bench nor Ferguson nor quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher was made available to the media after the game. Players who were available were almost comically thorough in praising Bench and Ferguson equally in all areas.
O'Brien said Saturday that he planned to sit by himself, go through all the film from spring practice, and evaluate the QBs, and that he wasn't close to naming a starter, "as I sit here right now.''
"There will only be one quarterback,'' he added.
"I want to make sure they all know where they stand, but we're a long way from that point.''
Last year at this point, there was supposedly a tight race between Matt McGloin, Rob Bolden and Paul Jones.
"I have to watch film on all three of them,'' O'Brien said after the 2012 Blue-White game.
"I feel like it's mine,'' Bolden said. "No reason it shouldn't be.''
Scarcely a month later, on June 1, before playing in a charity golf outing, O'Brien named McGloin the starter.
It soon became evident that Bolden was on his way out the door (he has been a non-factor at LSU) and Jones was temperamentally unsuited to the demands of the position (he's now at Robert Morris).
That left Bench -- whose only other FBS scholarship offer was from Rice -- as the backup.
He did play a little, notably after McGloin left the Sept. 8 Virginia game with an injury, completing 2 of 7 passes for 12 yards and running three times for 18 yards.
Overall, that couldn't have worked out much better. McGloin thrived under O'Brien and against all odds had one of the best QB seasons in Penn State history.
Penn State will evidently start the 2013 season without a QB who's taken a major-college snap.
There are two true-freshman early enrollees on the roster, D.J. Crook and Austin Whipple, who played sparingly Saturday.
Neither seems a serious contender.
The presumed ideal scenario of Hackenberg redshirting this fall now seems very unlikely.
So apparently it's Ferguson and Hackenberg and ... if you're Nittany Nation, a prayer that O'Brien really, really knows what he's doing.
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