Bill OBriens playbook is thicker than the lenses were in Joe Paternos glasses.
Its a tough read from start to finish.
Sure, OBriens NFL-style offense is very creative, but its also very complex.
Sophomore Steven Bench, who played sparingly while backing up Matt McGloin last season, has had his nose buried in OBriens playbook since arriving on campus nine months ago.
Redshirt sophomore junior-college transfer Tyler Ferguson has had just two months to digest it.
Highly touted freshman Christian Hackenberg, a five-star recruit, wont get his first real crack at Billy Ball until June. But the countrys top-rated quarterback already is studying portions of the playbook provided to him by OBrien while finishing up at Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia.
In the meantime, Bench and Ferguson have been sharing the snaps since spring practice got under way last Monday.
You have to believe at this point that Bench is the clubhouse leader to land the job as McGloins successor.
But Fergusons California junior-college coach at College of the Sequoias, Robert Dougherty, believes his one-time pupil will make a strong push for the Nittany Lions starting quarterback job.
I wouldnt be one bit surprised if he started, Dougherty said this past week. Hes played 10 games at a high level already for us. Hes a very gifted kid.
Our junior-college football out here is pretty strong its one of top conferences in California. A lot of the guys Tyler played with or against last year are going onto bigger schools, just like him. I really believe that experience bodes well for his chance to start at Penn State.
Dougherty, like OBrien, is quite knowledgeable when it comes to quarterbacks. Dougherty is quite familiar with the New England area, too.
He was a two-time all-conference quarterback at College of Sequoias in 1991 and 92. He transferred to Boston University, where he led the Terriers to an 11-0 mark, their first unbeaten season in school history, and was a third-team Division I-AA All-American.
Dougherty was drafted by the CFLs Toronto Argonauts in 1995 and later played for the Ottawa Rough Riders. He finished up his playing career in NFL Europe, where he backed up former pro quarterback Jon Kitna with the Barcelona Dragons.
Ferguson, 6-foot-3 and 199 pounds, passed for 2,614 yards and 22 touchdowns with 12 interceptions in 10 games last season while playing for Dougherty at College of the Sequoias.
Ferguson completed better than 55 percent of his passes and was the second-leading passer in his conference.
He was the No. 2-rated junior college quarterback in the country, but he also was Penn States second choice. He landed a scholarship in December only after Penn State target Jake Waters opted for Kansas State.
Ferguson de-committed from the University of Houston.
Hes more athletic than he looks, Dougherty said. He really can move around back there. He has a quick release, hes very bright. Hes everything you want in a college quarterback.
Hes been working hard in the weight room to try and gain some weight. Thats about the only thing hes lacking. Hes a good athlete. He had some Division II offers to play basketball coming out of high school.
Ferguson ended up at College of Sequoias after breaking his collarbone his senior year at Ridgeview High School in Bakersfield, Calif.
His team was 6-0 at the time of his injury and he had thrown for 1,275 yards and 10 touchdowns.
A lot of Division I-A teams liked Tyler in high school, Dougherty said. But once he broke his collarbone, it knocked him off the radar.
I told him he could come to our place, play well and get out quick. And he got out even quicker than I thought he would. Penn States got a good one.
Bench played in two games last year and was 2 of 8 passing for 12 yards. He has a much better grasp of the playbook and offense than Ferguson, who enrolled in school in early January.
That's not Tyler's fault, OBrien said last week. He's catching up and he's doing a good job (of) learning. They are both athletic. They both can throw the football, and now it's going to depend on how well they can make decisions and how accurately they can throw the football.
They both want to be coached. They are both on time. They sit in the front row and they both pay attention and take a lot of notes.
Hackenberg is not necessarily being targeted as a redshirt candidate. OBrien said Hackenberg would join the quarterback derby this summer.
That said, it would be a minor miracle for him to win the starting quarterback job in such a short period a time because of the nature of OBriens offense.
Granted, Rob Bolden arrived on campus in June of 2010 and proceeded to beat out Kevin Newsome, Paul Jones and McGloin. Bolden was the first freshman quarterback to start an opener for Penn State in 100 years.
But that was under the Paterno regime, when Penn State had a much simpler playbook.
Christian will come in, and we'll teach him the offense and give him some reps and see how he does, OBrien said.
In one record-setting season under OBrien, McGloin completed 60.5 percent of his passes for 3,266 yards. He had 24 touchdown passes, but tossed just five interceptions while also running for five scores.
And he captured the Burlsworth Trophy as the countrys top former walk-on.
It will be interesting to see if Bench, Ferguson or Hackenberg can experience similar results in 2013.
We are going to let it play out, and at the end of the day, we are going to have to obviously name a starter, OBrien said. I'm not into alternating quarterbacks.
That might be the only simple thing about OBriens offense.
Ron Musselman is a freelance writer. Follow him on Twitter@ronmusselman8.