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Friday, December 28, 2012
NittanyNation Friday mailbag

By Josh Moyer

Welcome to NittanyNation's mailbag! We asked you to tweet or email your questions this week, and we've selected three to answer in-depth -- starting with the question we received most.

Cody Harsomchuck (@chuck_15) writes: Chances Jonathan Walton decommits?

Josh Moyer: Honestly, if you asked me two weeks ago who I thought was most likely to decommit, I would have picked the three-star linebacker. Ideally, Walton wanted to play in the South, but Penn State was his lone BCS offer and was after him since early in the summer. He liked the fact he was a Plan-A linebacker over at Linebacker U.

But South Carolina is going to be tempting. At this point, I'd venture a guess that Walton's a slight favorite to wind up with the Gamecocks. He wants to talk over a visit with an assistant coach first, but he said he's "most likely" going on an official there. That visit is really what's going to determine whether he remains a Nittany Lion.

Reasons he would go? It is down South, it's in the SEC, and he could play in a BCS bowl. Reasons not to go? He's become close friends with fellow PSU commit Zayd Issah, he's basically just a backup plan for South Carolina, and he's been to Penn State twice and has garnered a good idea of what to expect there.

Whenever a commit decides to visit elsewhere this close to signing day when there hasn't been a coaching change or some other surprise, there's some cause for concern. He remains committed to Penn State for now and, if he decides to stick with PSU, I think the main reason will likely be because he feels appreciated and wanted at Happy Valley. If South Carolina offered him at the same time Penn State did, he'd probably already be a Gamecock.

Steven Bench
There's about a 50 percent shot that rising sophomore quarterback Steven Bench is the starting quarterback next season for Penn State.
Adam Puzio (@Adam_Puzio) writes: Now that there is depth at the QB position, who is the favorite to open the season as the starter? Also, Hack in 2014?

Josh Moyer: At this point, the favorite definitely has to be Steven Bench. Bill O'Brien needs a smart and accurate quarterback, and Bench will have nearly a six-month headstart over Tyler Ferguson when it comes to memorizing the playbook. So, in the smarts department, Bench gets the nod only because he'll know that playbook better.

If I had to rank the odds of starting, I'd probably put Bench at 50 percent to start the season opener, Ferguson at 40 percent and Christian Hackenberg at 10 percent. I've said this before, but it bears repeating: True freshman QBs who don't enroll early do NOT fare well in their rookie campaigns. Even Matt Stafford struggled his first season -- and he enrolled early.

Hackenberg did not have a complicated offense in high school because he played with a lot of different teammates from one year to the next due to the nature of a military academy. I spoke with all the opposing coaches he competed against his junior season, and they all told me the same thing: Incredible arm, great spiral and release, has all the physical tools you could ever want ... BUT has some difficulty reading defenses and picking up on disguised coverages and blitzes. In some ways, hearing these coaches describe him, he sounded like a rich man's Anthony Morelli.

It's a little too early for me to say who the favorite will be in 2014, but O'Brien obviously didn't bring Hackenberg in to sit on the bench. If he doesn't play, it will be because he doesn't understand the playbook well enough or can't read defenses. He has everything else going for him -- and O'Brien and Charlie Fisher will obviously do their best job at teaching him the fundamentals there.

Jeremy Harrison writes in an email: What incoming freshmen do you think have the best chance to start next season?

Josh Moyer: If we're including juco signees and talking about starting rather than playing, then I'd have to go with Ferguson just because -- as I said above -- I think he has about a 40 percent chance of becoming the opening-day starter.

As far as playing time, I think DBs Anthony Smith and Jordan Smith put themselves in prime position to earn some time on the field, perhaps at nickelback. It's pretty easy to see why: Both of the Smiths will be early enrollees at the shallowest position on the roster -- cornerback.

Jordan Smith has an incredible work ethic while Anthony Smith was basically picked up because he could enroll early and add some needed depth in the spring. I could see just about anyone in this class redshirting, with the exception of Ferguson and at least one of these players. There's no way both of these guys redshirt, purely due to need.

Issah is athletic and could also contribute on special teams immediately, while Richy Anderson could be a bit of a situational slash player between the slot and backfield if PSU needs some talent there. It certainly could've used an effective slot player this past season.