There is a good chance when Penn State plays host to Alabama on Saturday that four quarterbacks will see significant playing time - Matt McGloin and Rob Bolden for the Nittany Lions, and A.J. McCarron and Phillip Simms for the Crimson Tide.
There is also a good chance that both Joe Paterno and Nick Saban will name a starting quarterback for their respective squads prior to kickoff Saturday after hinting to that as a possibility during their weekly press conferences.
"I think we're very fortunate to have the situation we're in," Paterno said Tuesday. "So, I think that what we'll do this Saturday is we'll try to win the football game. Whether we do it with two quarterbacks or one, I can't tell you right now. We're going to practice as hard as we can. We're going to try to get as good as we can be."
"We're not going to name a starting quarterback today," Saban said in his presser the same day. "Later in the week, as we see how the two guys practice, we'll make a determination as to which guy will give us the best opportunity in this particular game, or if there's some combination of the two that would be helpful and useful to us, we'll look at the option of doing that."
McCarron took the opening snap for Alabama last week against Kent State and had the better performance (if you want to call it that - the Crimson Tide quarterbacking duo combined for four interceptions.) I'd expect him to be at the helm for Alabama for a majority of the game, if he isn't named the outright starter by kickoff.
For the Nittany Lions, the water is a little muddier, and that's not due to all the rain in Happy Valley this week. McGloin had the better numbers (6-8, 77 yards) compared to Bolden (6-12, 37 yards), but Bolden's numbers would look much sexier had a pair of perfectly-thrown deep balls been caught by the receivers. Both passes almost surely would have been for scores.
While I still think the QB position should be Bolden's to lose, it's hard to argue against the fact that the offense ran more smoothly with McGloin under center. For whatever reason, be it a confidence issue between the quarterbacks themselves or a split in the locker room - let's hope it's not the latter - the offensive line protected better and the receivers caught passes more consistently with McGloin on the field.
Regardless of who takes the starting snaps Saturday (I have a funny feeling it will be McGloin), Paterno said the supporting cast needs to do a better job at taking the pressure off the quarterback. That starts with the one aspect of the offense that is pretty set in stone - the running backs.
Silas Redd showed the potential to be a superstar back, making fans say, "Evan who?" just as Royster had made them say, "Tony who?" two years prior. While the quarterback situation has been a wild roller coaster since Michael Robinson went to the NFL, the running backs have been the steady force that keeps Penn State in the conversation of top football programs in the nation.
Brandon Beachum looked solid as well when he touched the ball, and will most likely see significant time again this week.
Nittany Lion fans may be going into Saturday's contest feeling confident that Alabama's running game could be on the downside following Trent Richardson's 13 carries for 37 yards against Kent State. But remember fans, you were feeling the same way last season when Mark Ingram was battling injury and Richardson got the start. Remember what he did to the Nittany Lion defense in Tuscaloosa? I expect him to have a bounce back game on Saturday.
Another question facing Alabama is the number of turnovers (five against Kent State). If the Penn State defense can force - and capitalize on - a high number of turnovers Saturday, the Lions just might be able to pull the upset.
The defense played extremely well against Indiana State, but let's remember that it's just Indiana State. Even with an exceptional quarterback in Ronnie Fouch (who transferred from the University of Washington after being stuck behind someone named Jake Locker), he didn't have the quality of players around him that McCarron and Simms have at Alabama. Here's to hoping that the defense looks much better against the Crimson Tide this year than last.
Questions remain for the Lions' offensive line heading into Saturday, and those questions still would have been asked even if starting tackle Mike Farrell wouldn't have gone down with an MCL injury. Paterno said Tuesday that Adam Gress will step into Farrell's spot on the line. Farrell won't need surgery, but will be out for a couple of weeks, Paterno said.
That shines an even brighter light on an offensive line that at some points opened tractor-trailer sized holes for the running game, but then was dominated by a far-less talented Sycamore defensive line in pass protection. Paterno said Tuesday he felt the offensive line was good, not great against Indiana State. It's going to have to be better than great if the Lions want a chance to beat Alabama.
One last issue to touch on for Penn State this weekend (and I could have written an entire column just on this topic had I really wanted to bore the readers) is the atrocious kicking game for the Lions in last week's opener. Anthony Fera is in Paterno's dog house, and anyone that's followed Penn State football for any length of time knows that once you're in Joe's dog house, it's extremely hard to get out.
Evan Lewis missed a pair of field goals, plus an extra point. His kickoffs were very short, often setting up Indiana State with very favorable field position. Even though the Sycamores did nothing with it, any team the Lions play the rest of the year (with the exception of maybe Eastern Michigan) will take full advantage of that. True freshman Sam Ficken should take over the kicking duties for Lewis if he struggles at all. And who knows, Paterno may have already made that change and not told anyone. You know how the wily old dog can be.
Penn State has cracked the AP Top-25 this week, coming in at No. 23. LSU, with a win last week over Oregon, jumped into the No. 2 slot, pushing the Crimson Tide back to No. 3 this week. Barring an upset, I wouldn't expect to see the Lions ranked when next week's polls come out.
Postgame quotes of the week: "We showed (Rob Bolden) some Michael Robinson tape. That may have been a bad idea." - PSU quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno, on Bolden's decisions not to slide against Indiana State.
"Alright guys, who wants to carry me out. Preferably a female." -Joe Paterno, when leaving the press room.
Chris McFarland is the news editor of The Sentinel. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org