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Friday, March 15, 2013
NittanyNation mailbag: What ifs, recruiting

By Josh Moyer

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

Robert Passaro writes in an email: Everyone seems to be anointing Christian Hackenberg as the starter if not this year then next. What happens if Steven Bench really shows he can manage this offense this year and leads us to an 8-4 record or better?

Josh Moyer: Well, that'd be quite a nice problem to have, wouldn't it? Let's start out with the obvious and then look ahead from there. Bill O'Brien isn't going to start a player just to keep him happy; he's going to go with the best quarterback -- even if that's D.J. Crook or Jack Seymour or Austin Whipple. Heck, he went with Gerald Hodges as a returner because he practiced well. And, let's not forget, he demoted Paul Jones a week or two into the season.

If Bench has a Matt McGloin-type year, he HAS to be the starter the following season. That's easy. But it gets a little murky depending on the kind of season Bench has. What if he throws, say, 20 touchdowns to 15 interceptions but is a leader and PSU still wins eight games? Well, I think you'll see an open quarterback competition in the offseason.

If Bench plays better than advertised and Hackenberg has to wait to start until his graduation, I'm sure he wouldn't be too happy. But I don't think he'd transfer since he'd still have two years as the main guy. O'Brien's a convincing coach, and I'm sure Hackenberg would get plenty of mop-up time if Bench starts -- unlike this past year when Bench barely saw the field. And O'Brien can always play his Tom Brady trump card. After all, Brady made a pretty penny in the NFL -- and he started just two seasons for Michigan. I'm sure that would make Hackenberg feel a little better.

Brian Weiss (@bwessfootball) writes: Which wide receiver is most likely to commit to Penn State out of Chris Godwin, Troy Apke, De'Andre Thompkins and Thaddeus Snodgrass?

Moyer: I'll give them to you in order: Thompkins, Godwin, Apke, Snodgrass. Apke seems to be leaning more toward Pitt, while I'm not convinced now that Snodgrass really holds a tangible offer.

As for Godwin and Thompkins, they not only appear to be the most interested in PSU -- but they're also the top two wideouts on the Nittany Lions' big board. Godwin's interest in PSU seems relatively high, but he won't have a top five for another two or three months. PSU's going after him hard, but Ohio State and South Carolina are also in close contact with him. It was a little hard to get a read on him, but I think Penn State has a good shot here. I don't think PSU's the favorite at this point, but they should make his final cut.

As for Thompkins, I've spoken with him a lot, and I get the feeling it's between Penn State and the SEC. He wants to play in the top conference, but he also really likes the Nittany Lions. A lot of his coaches and teachers have ties to Penn State, so he's reminded almost daily what it would be like to go there. If Thompkins had to choose a school tomorrow, I think he'd pick PSU ... but that mindset could obviously change as he gets to know other schools and other coaches more and more.

Ryan Hess writes in an email: Besides quarterback, what position battle do you think will be the closest and most exciting to watch?

Moyer: I decided to re-answer this question with the news that PSU will be without Ben Kline for the spring because of shoulder surgery. I thought it would be a good battle between him and Nyeem Wartman, but obviously that's no longer in the cards.

I think there's two good battles here at defensive tackle and cornerback but, if I can only pick one, I'm going to have to say DT for now. Of course, Jones will return as a starter -- but the other starting tackle is a bit of a question mark. Kyle Baublitz is the player with more experience since he's a redshirt junior, but he still only saw action in six games last season.

His main competition will likely be with redshirt freshman Austin Johnson, whom O'Brien has lauded for having great potential. Fellow redshirt freshman Derek Dowrey and fifth-year senior (and converted offensive tackle) Nate Cadogan could also compete here. The most likely course of action is Baublitz starting with Johnson seeing plenty of time, but there's a whole lot that could happen here. It's definitely a position to keep an eye on.