DALLAS -- Rob Bolden regressed this year -- badly -- and by the end of the regular season, he looked as bewildered and out of sync as a quarterback can get.
He only played in two of Penn State's final five games after losing the starting job to Matt McGloin, and it was painful to watch the once-prized recruit struggle so mightily when he did get limited playing time.
Bolden completed just 2-of-11 passes for 22 yards against Illinois in week nine and at Wisconsin in week 12. He was so bad that the ground often appeared to be his intended target, as on some throws he fired the ball straight down several yards in front of his receivers.
The Illinois game at Beaver Stadium was the low point for Bolden. He played most of the second quarter, went 0-for-4 passing, fumbled a shotgun snap and showed a complete lack of awareness for pass rushers as he got blasted several times.
The worst part of it all had to be the heavy boos rained down on Bolden by numerous fans after each and every mistake. Having the home crowd turn on you has to be the worst feeling in the world for any athlete, especially a 19-year-old kid.
Bolden has all the physical tools and looks like he should be a good quarterback. He also sounds like he should be one since he doesn't lack for confidence.
Bolden's by the numbers
Rob Bolden started the first seven games, lost the job to Matt McGloin and played in only two of PSU's final five games. His statistics:
Asked Thursday night how he feels about so many people believing he regressed this year, the sophomore said, "Just keep watching. I've got one more game. Just watch."
In a strange twist of fate, Bolden's Penn State career changed drastically when he suffered a concussion last year -- opening the door for McGloin -- and now the opposite has occurred.
Bolden almost certainly will start Monday's TicketCity Bowl against Houston, not because he's earned it, but because McGloin still has yet to practice after getting injured in a locker-room altercation with receiver Curtis Drake on Dec. 17.
A day before that, Bolden allegedly took a $2 bottle of Gatorade from a campus store, and university police cited him for retail theft. Interim coach Tom Bradley called it a "prank that went awry" and said Bolden would face internal discipline but would not lose playing time in the bowl game over the incident.
So despite having a brutal season on the field followed up by that minor legal issue, Bolden now finds himself with a golden opportunity to finish on a high note, turn around his career and win back fan support.
The kid is supremely confident he can do all that, too.
"I wouldn't say I lost confidence," Bolden, who started the first seven games, said of his late-season struggles. "I was upset that I wasn't playing a lot, but we were winning, so not much I can say about that.
"I'm great right now," he later added when the confidence issue came up again. "There's no doubt in my mind that I can go out there and do what I need to do."
Bolden may not doubt his abilities, but why should anyone else believe him after what he described as "a roller coaster" first two seasons at PSU?
Bolden insisted that he's a better player now than a year ago -- "Yeah, absolutely," he said -- then he was pressed into describing how.
"As far as leadership, I got better with my teammates," he said. "I've been watching a lot of film, and I feel like I know defenses better to know where to go with the ball and stuff like that."
The leadership part may be true, but his 42.2 percent completion rate this season doesn't back up his other claims.
Until we see differently on the field, Bolden's confidence will come across as simply lip service.
Until we see him actually move the chains consistently and get the offense into the end zone frequently, there won't be reason to believe Bolden has what it takes to be a quality college quarterback.
For his sake, here's hoping we start to see some of that Monday, which we very well could.
Houston's defense is lousy, and it doesn't take a great quarterback to put up a lot of points on the Cougars. Penn State should be able to run at will with Silas Redd, and if Bolden -- who has had the benefit of taking all the first-team reps since McGloin's injury -- also plays well, it could be a big springboard for him next season.
That's if there is a next season for Bolden at Penn State, which it sounds like there will be.
"I haven't even thought about leaving yet," said Bolden, who tried to transfer after the 2010 season but was denied a scholarship release by Joe Paterno. "I'm all in with my team right now, so whatever happens, happens."
He's always given sort of odd answers like that when asked about his commitment to PSU, so he was asked point blank if he can say for sure he will be back in 2012.
"Based on today, yes I will," he said.
It's tough to pinpoint exactly why Bolden has regressed so much since last season. Some of it surely is him, some is probably Jay Paterno's coaching -- or lack thereof -- but regardless, no one should give up on a kid with his skill set who has two years of eligibility remaining.
That's undoubtedly why the coaches continued to give Bolden opportunity after opportunity this year, even when those opportunities weren't earned.
This one wasn't earned either. But Bolden has it, and he'll need to make the most of it Monday for Penn State to keep up with Houston's prolific offense.
Cory Giger is the host of "Sports Central" from 4 to 6 p.m. daily on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM. Reach him at 949-7031 or @CoryGiger on Twitter.