Bill O'Brien said Penn State's quarterback competition is "very even" between Christian Hackenberg and Tyler Ferguson, and the coach noted he's "pretty close" to naming the starter for the season opener against Syracuse.
"The one thing about it, just so everybody is clear about this, is that whoever I name as a starter, the next guy has to be ready to go and more than likely will play this year," O'Brien said Thursday on a conference call.
The coach went on to add, "Let's not put a huge amount of stock into who the starter is. That guy will start the game, but the other guy is going to play football for us this year."
Adam Breneman (left) and Christian Hackenberg take part in media day at Penn State recently.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Hackenberg is the star freshman recruit who arrived on campus in June, while Ferguson is a sophomore junior college transfer who went through spring drills with the Nittany Lions.
O'Brien said last week that Ferguson was "a little bit ahead" in the competition because he had more practice experience working in the offense, but Hackenberg clearly has a quick learning curve that has allowed him to pick things up in a hurry.
O'Brien has said repeatedly he prefers to pick one quarterback and play him. But under these circumstances, with a close competition, he hasn't ruled out the possibility of playing both guys in a given game.
"There will be a starting quarterback, and we'll go from there," O'Brien said. "We don't rule out anything. I do believe in playing one quarterback, but I think it's hard to rule out anything. We have two talented players there, and we'll do what's best for the team."
O'Brien said he spoke to both Hackenberg and Ferguson on Thursday morning and told them he "couldn't be prouder of where they're at right now and how they've worked."
Both quarterbacks have had "a lot of good moments," and both have "made their share of mistakes," the coach added.
"We'll let that play out a few more days," he said of the competition.
Penn State has a complex offense that requires a lot from the quarterback, both physically and mentally. One concern might be that O'Brien has to scale things back a good bit because the quarterbacks are young and inexperienced, but that doesn't appear to be the case.
"One thing that has been apparent to me is we don't need to hold back much from Christian or Tyler," O'Brien said.
"These guys are bright guys. They study. They come back one day to the next and they've improved on the things they've made mistakes on before. They do a nice job in our walkthroughs. They ask great questions. They're bright guys. They're really fun to coach, so we don't hold a lot back."