New quarterbacks under center at Pitt, Penn State, WVU
By Jerry DiPaola
Published: Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
For better or worse, Pitt, Penn State and West Virginia had little or no alternatives at quarterback the past three seasons.
Pitt didn't recruit well enough to create competition for Tino Sunseri.
Geno Smith turned into one of the nation's great players at West Virginia.
After wrestling the job from Rob Bolden and later sharing it with him, Matt McGloin was Penn State's unquestioned starter in 2012.
The significance of the comfort level that arose from those situations can be debated — the schools combined to win 70 games, but only West Virginia went to a BCS game (Orange Bowl, 2011).
But there can be no issue regarding this point: With national signing day set for Wednesday and each school looking to replenish its quarterback depth, questions surround all three programs at the game's most critical position.
Coach Paul Chryst grimaced and expressed displeasure recently when asked about the upcoming quarterback controversy.
He prefers to use the word “competition.''
Which is progress for Pitt after Sunseri started all 39 games since 2010, with only 20 victories and back-to-back losing seasons.
Finally, Pitt has depth at the position, with fifth-year senior Tom Savage, who sat out the past two seasons after transferring from Rutgers and Arizona, rising redshirt freshman Chad Voytik and freshman Tra'von Chapman, who graduated six months early from high school and enrolled last month.
Savage, 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, has the size, arm strength and experience after making 15 starts at Rutgers in 2009 and 2010.
“I thought he was going to be the next Joe Flacco,” CBS Sports Network recruiting analyst Tom Lemming said. “He has the height, the arm strength and he fits perfectly into that offense. He has the experience and the maturity. Why not?”
Yet Voytik was a heralded recruit who worked behind the scenes to keep Pitt's Class of 2012 together after former coach Todd Graham bolted for Arizona State.
“He's a smart kid, with a real good arm,” Lemming said. “If they work around his talents, he will become a success.”
Don't count out Chapman, even if he must wait until 2014.
“It's unrealistic to think a kid can come in right away and have success,” said Brian Dohn, a Scout.com recruiting analyst who likes Chapman's long-range potential.
“The thing I like about Chapman is that he can move in the pocket, and he can be accurate on the run. He is almost more comfortable moving than in the pocket. He squares his body up real well before he throws it.
“But he's going to have to get comfortable staying in the pocket, and he is going to have to get used to (being) under center.”
The bottom line is Chryst recognizes he can't have too many quarterbacks on the roster.
Last week, on the brink of signing day, with 27 pledged prospects and Chapman already enrolled, quarterbacks coach Brooks Bollinger visited three-star Tim Boyle of Middletown, Conn., according to his coach Sean Marinan.
Nothing came of it, because Pitt couldn't promise a scholarship to Boyle, who verbally committed to Boston College before the Eagles changed coaches.
“I don't think they have anything available for him,” said Marinan, who added Oregon remains interested.
The Mountaineers could face serious deficiencies in their passing game without Smith, likely one of the first quarterbacks drafted after amassing 4,365 yards of total offense and 44 touchdowns last season.
The leading candidates are rising redshirt freshman Ford Childress and junior Paul Millard — both 3-stars from Texas.
The good news is that coach Dana Holgorsen knows quarterbacks. He sent three to the NFL when he was an offensive coordinator — Brandon Weeden (first-round selection of the Cleveland Browns after leaving Oklahoma State), Case Keenum (Houston Texans, University of Houston) and Graham Harrell (Green Bay Packers, Texas Tech).
The problem is Childress didn't play last season, and Millard has only 34 pass attempts on his two-year résumé.
The candidate with the most speed — an important element in college football these days — is Monessen's all-state quarterback Chavas Rawlins, who threw and ran for 1,995 yards and 25 touchdowns last season. He graduated early and enrolled in January.
The WVU landscape has changed for Rawlins, who committed last year largely based on his relationship with former quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital, who left to take the same job at Texas A&M.
“He liked Duke. He really liked Virginia,” Monessen coach Andy Pacik said. “He really, really, really liked coach Chryst and Pitt's staff.
“You kind of have to take a step back and see exactly how things play out. I know no matter who does what, he's going to work his tail off. Chavas is a tremendous competitor, and he thinks the future bodes well for him there.”
The question for Nittany Lions coach Bill O'Brien is whether to make 5-star recruit Christian Hackenberg an immediate starter or save him for 2014, when there will be only two seasons left on the bowl ban.
“He can start (as a freshman),” Dohn said. “I just don't know if that is the prudent thing to do.”
Hackenberg, 6-foot-4, 212 pounds, is the No. 2-ranked pro style quarterback in the nation, according to Rivals.com, but he's still in high school and won't be at spring drills.
That's where sophomores Tyler Ferguson, a junior-college transfer from College of Sequoias (Calif.), and Steven Bench will begin competition for the No. 1 job.
Hackenberg appears to be the quarterback of the future — whenever it arrives for him.
He committed to Penn State last year as a junior at Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy and never wavered from that position.
His father, Erick, who played in the 1988 Big 33 game, told his son he would know the school that is right for him by a feeling.
When they were visiting Penn State last year, Hackenberg turned to his father and said, “This is where I need to be.”
John Harris and Scott Brown contributed to this story. Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.
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