Matt McGloin is familiar with just one of the candidates in Penn State’s razor-thin 2013 quarterback derby.
But he wasn’t bashful about making an early prediction that Steven Bench will succeed him as the leader of coach Bill O’Brien’s pro-style offense.
Bench, a Georgia native, played sparingly last year as a freshman while serving as McGloin’s backup.
“You have to think Steven Bench is the guy to lead the offense this year, and it’s his job to lose,” said McGloin, who is more than 2,500 miles from State College these days, working out at the California-based Athletic Gaines training facility.
Coming off a record-setting season at Penn State, McGloin hopes the training will help prepare him for an opportunity to get a look-see from an NFL team this summer.
McGloin arrived in West Hollywood shortly after the new year began, but he hasn’t had much time for fun in the sun. His days are filled with running 40s, doing flexes and practicing arm-action techniques.
Early last week, he took a few minutes to handicap the Lions’ quarterback situation.
Besides Bench, there are three other quarterbacks on the current roster: junior college signee Tyler Ferguson, who de-committed from the University of Houston after Penn State target Jake Waters opted for Kansas State; and freshmen walk-ons Austin Whipple and D.J. Crook. All three players began classes Monday.
Highly-touted four-star prospect Christian Hackenberg from Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia, who recently completed his high school career by playing in the Under Armour All-America game, is expected to sign with Penn State next month.
Let’s take a closer look at Penn State’s quarterback prospects entering Year 2 of Billy Ball.
• Steven Bench (6-2, 204)
Bench, who will be a sophomore in the fall, made his collegiate debut in the second quarter of the second game last season when McGloin injured his elbow against Virginia. Bench completed 2 of 7 passes for 12 yards and had 3 carries for 18 yards.
He attempted just one pass the rest of the season, an incompletion against Purdue in week 9.
“Steven didn’t play a lot, but he kept getting better,” said McGloin, who won the Burlsworth Trophy last month as the nation’s top former walk-on. “He’s a hard worker. He still has a lot to learn. I tried to teach him as much as I could. Hopefully, he got something out of it.
“He understands he has a long way to go. He understands he’s a young kid. He just has to continue to improve each and every day and listen to everything coach O’Brien and (quarterbacks) coach (Charlie) Fisher are throwing at him.
“Bench has a strong arm. He will have to battle to keep the job. But he’s definitely very capable of getting the job done and playing at a high level.”
Bench is the son of a long-time high school coach.
He de-committed from Rice a year ago to sign with Penn State, and was the third true freshman quarterback to see action for the Nittany Lions in the past eight years, joining Anthony Morelli (2004) and Rob Bolden (2010).
“He’s just a great kid, a bright kid, competitive guy, a lot of energy, really a neat kid to be around,” O’Brien said. “He’s a coach’s son. He’ll be the first to tell you he’s got a lot of work to do, but I’m really looking forward to working with him when spring practice starts.”
• Tyler Ferguson (6-4, 210)
Ferguson, who will be Bench’s main competition this spring, was rated the second-best junior college quarterback in the country as a freshman last season.
He threw for 2,614 yards and 22 touchdowns in 10 games with 12 interceptions at the College of the Sequoias in Visalia, Calif. He completed better than 55 percent of his passes.
“He was a guy that we felt really was smart and productive,” O’Brien said.
Ferguson will have four years to finish his three remaining years of eligibility.
• Austin Whipple (6-2, 200) and D.J. Crook (6-2, 205)
Austin is the son of Mark Whipple, who most recently held the job as quarterbacks coach of the Cleveland Browns. He also has worked for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles and was the head coach at Brown University in the 1990s, when O’Brien was an assistant there.
The younger Whipple played at Pine-Richland High School in western Pennsylvania as a senior before spending last season at Salisbury School in Connecticut. In 10 post-graduate games at Salisbury, he hit on 74 of 136 passes for 1,215 yards with 12 touchdowns and was drawing interest from Ivy League schools such as Brown, Dartmouth and Penn before choosing walk-on status at Penn State.
Crook passed for 8,126 yards and 77 touchdowns at Barnstable High School in Massachusetts before enrolling at Worcester Academy last fall.
O’Brien called Whipple and Crook “two athletic-looking guys that are ready to go to work.”
• Christian Hackenberg (6-4, 215)
Hackenberg, who is rated the No. 1 quarterback in the country by ESPN, passed for 2,144 yards and 24 touchdowns with nine interceptions as a senior in leading Fork Union to a state title-game appearance.
He and tight end Adam Breneman are considered the top two players in Penn State’s 2013 recruiting class.
Breneman enrolled in classes Monday. Hackenberg, who has remained verbally committed to Penn State throughout the NCAA sanctions, won’t arrive in Happy Valley and join the quarterback mix until late summer.
“By the time (Hackenberg) gets there, Bench will have been there for a full year and the junior college kid will have been there for six months,” McGloin said. “And you’re asking a freshman kid, who I hear is very talented, to come in and pick up that complex offense in two months and be ready to play and be effective.
“It’s possible, but it will certainly be tough. I think he’s facing an uphill battle.”
McGloin clearly believes in Bench, and is willing to put his money on the only quarterback holdover from 2012.
In McGloin’s mind, Bench already is a few furlongs ahead of the pack in Penn State’s quarterback derby.
Ron Musselman is a freelance writer working in Centre County.