A Drama-Free Media Day
There were no questions about sanctions. There were no questions about names on jerseys, or about young men with facial hair. There were no questions about team morale. When Bill O’Brien and the Nittany Lion football team met reporters Thursday at the team’s annual preseason media day, the questions were about football. It’s how these things are supposed to go, and how they usually did go at Penn State, until this time last year.
This time last year, of course, O’Brien was a first-year head coach, and the Lions were a team facing drastic NCAA sanctions and the loss of key players who transferred when things looked their worst. But after an 8–4 season and a year of familiarity—for O’Brien and his staff, for players and media, and for Penn State fans—things no longer seem so bad. There are challenges, particularly the scholarship limitations that have robbed the Lions of roster depth and will magnify the impact of injuries to any key player. But things are better. The questions reflected that.
The first—and most important—question put to O’Brien on Thursday was no surprise: What about your quarterbacks? With the job up for grabs between sophomore transfer Tyler Ferguson (No. 5 at left) and true freshman Christian Hackenberg (No. 14), Penn State’s opening-day starter will have everything to prove. Asked about his statement last month that he’d have a starter named by mid August, O’Brien seemed to be only half-joking when he replied, “I hope you didn’t mark that on your calendar.” Ferguson, who was on campus in the spring, seems to have an early advantage, but there’s a reason Hackenberg was the top-rated high school QB in the nation. O’Brien will spend much of the next week or two watching for one of them to prove himself the better player.
And the rest? There’s serious talent all over the field, a fact emphasized by the slew of NFL scouts who took in Thursday’s open practice. The lack of depth behind those stars is the concern, and keeping their best players healthy will be vital to the Lions’ success this season, and for the next few seasons as well. But on a sticky day in early August, there was no point looking beyond the next practice. The Lions open the season against Syracuse on Aug. 30. Until then, they’ve got work to do.
Ryan Jones, senior editor