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Thursday, April 25, 2013
What does Bench's transfer mean?

By Josh Moyer

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Steven Bench didn't expect this. Nor did his family. Nor the fans.

The subject of Bench transferring wasn't broached over the weekend. His father said they chatted about school and, well, football -- what else?

The topic of those Bench family conversations shifted dramatically on Tuesday, when the sophomore quarterback sat down with Penn State coach Bill O'Brien. The Benches were somewhat light on details -- but it came down to Bench feeling he didn't have a shot at the starting job.

Tyler Ferguson
Steven Bench's transfer seems to indicate that Tyler Ferguson (pictured) was ahead of him on the depth chart.
And when asked if that just meant he was behind Tyler Ferguson, Bench said, "No," before declining further comment.

You can read between the lines there. But let's get a few things straight before addressing what this impending transfer means for PSU. One, O'Brien has often said he emphasizes honesty and telling hard truths. And Bench didn't like what he heard. Had O'Brien strung him along until the preseason, telling him he had a great shot at the job, Bench might have been stuck at PSU. But he doesn't operate like that.

Two, as Bench reiterated on the phone to ESPN on Wednesday, "I'm not a backup quarterback." He wanted to start and, after that conversation with O'Brien, realized that wasn't going to happen. He knew he'd have a better shot elsewhere -- and several schools have already shown interest.

So, yes, on the surface, PSU loses its most experienced quarterback. O'Brien loses the player who's spent the most time with his nose in the playbook, who's thrown the most passes to Allen Robinson and Kyle Carter.

But, apparently, O'Brien didn't lose the top quarterback at Penn State.

Ferguson clearly had the edge over Bench at this point. If that wasn't the case, Bench would likely still be in Happy Valley. You can label Bench a coward for not sticking it out, or you realize that playing time is his top priority -- a priority that wasn't coming his way.

Silas Redd left this team as a starter and arguably its top player. Justin Brown left as a starter. Khairi Fortt left when he likely would've been starting in 2013. Those transfers especially hurt. But Bench? With top-rated passer Christian Hackenberg packing his bags and driving up to State College in late June, Bench wasn't going to see time in the future if he didn't see time this season.

Bench's transfer does not belong with that first group.

Ultimately, the means for his departure don't really matter when it comes to evaluating the ends. He'll be gone shortly after May 23, and PSU's quarterback situation is by no means in better shape today than it was a week ago.

But this race was always going to come down to two quarterbacks. Some thought it might be Ferguson and Bench with Hackenberg redshirting, others tried out different combinations. But it's probably not all that easy to split first-team reps with three quarterbacks.

Ferguson was O'Brien's choice. Ferguson, at least in the staff's eyes, is the more valuable quarterback. And Hackenberg -- who turned down offers from the likes of Alabama and Georgia -- is the future.

This transfer won't affect Penn State's win/loss record this season as much as it'll affect the depth. That might sound odd, but those two aren't necessarily tied together. PSU had just two scholarship QBs last season and, if Matt McGloin would've broken his right arm, the Nittany Lions would have been lucky to win four games. But they did just fine with O'Brien's pick, who started every game.

If O'Brien's top choice -- be it Hackenberg or Ferguson -- can stay healthy, Bench's transfer isn't going to change the outcome of the Nittany Lions' season. Maybe Hackenberg overtakes Ferguson midway through the season, maybe Ferguson starts every game. Whatever the outcome, Bench was going to be riding the ... well, you fill in the blank, there.

Panic is premature. If Ferguson or Hackenberg goes down, then feel free to parade through College Avenue with "The end is near" signs. Just not yet. The top QB, apparently, is still on campus.