UNIVERSITY PARK -- The Blue's rain-shortened 10-0 win over the White Saturday afternoon at Beaver Stadium officially concluded Penn State's spring practice session.
Now the real work begins.
Because, no matter how much improvement is made along an offensive line that -- stop me if you've heard this before -- goes into the season as a big question mark or how much fine tuning is made with a defense that looks like it could be one of the best in the Big Ten, what will really determine how far the Nittany Lions go in 2011 depends on what happens behind center.
In fact, it's not an understatement to say freshman Rob Bolden's decision as to whether or not to follow through on his plans to transfer in January will play a huge role in the course the Penn State program takes over the next four, five or even six years.
If Bolden stays, there's legitimate reason to believe he once again will become the starting quarterback, either sooner by beating out the gutsy, hard-nosed but athletically limited Matt McGloin or later when McGloin graduates.
If Bolden transfers, though, the development of Paul Jones and Kevin Newsome will have to be accelerated, presuming Newsome doesn't leave, too. The Lions would also have to step up their recruitment of a quarterback for the 2012 class.
Bolden's situation has loomed over the Nittany Lions program ever since he and his father expressed a desire to leave Penn State at the end of this past season. In the months that followed, trying to discern what Bolden will do has turned into something more puzzling than the riddle of the sphinx.
Earlier this week, a source close to Bolden said the quarterback from Michigan seemed to be having a lot of fun this spring and that they thought Bolden would remain a Nittany Lion. That seemed to jibe with other reports.
"Rob has just been focused on trying to get better. We haven't talked about him leaving,'' said running back Stephfon Green.
"The team doesn't notice it. I don't notice it. Every time somebody brings it up, we're like, 'Oh, I forgot that was out there,''' receiver Justin Brown added. "Rob's still the same guy. He's a good guy. He's a good teammate.''
Following Saturday's Blue-White Game, quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno said he expected Bolden to be back come fall. Those echoed the comments of Paterno's father, Lion head coach Joe, in his pregame press conference.
"I would have obviously hoped that's behind him,'' Paterno said of the transfer thoughts. "He appeared to be having a good time [during spring practice].
"If we have a problem, we'll discuss it next week. But I don't think there is a problem. There shouldn't be.''
The Penn State coaches approached the spring the way one would expect them to do if they thought Bolden probably was going to stay. He split time evenly with McGloin with the first team offense.
However, Bolden comments after the game made one feel like there might be a major disconnect here. While saying he was enjoying himself and that he had a great relationship with Jay Paterno, Bolden didn't confirm he was staying, didn't say he was leaning that way, didn't even give a timetable as to when he would decide and wouldn't discuss what really was motivating his thoughts to leave or what needed to happen to bring him back.
It was enough to give one the distinct impression he might still be planning to leave. He at least seems to be legitimately up in the air.
"Am I closer? Yes. Final? No. I've still got three weeks in the semester,'' Bolden said. "There are a lot of things I have to think about other than football. Well, football is the main thing. But, my coaches, we have other things that maybe you guys don't know about that we have to go over.
"There's nothing really [else that can happen]. I just want to go over it with my dad and family and see where we're at.''
In Bolden, Penn State has a quarterback with all the physical tools to take the Lions to a conference championship game -- there was a reason the coaches made him the starter three months after he arrived on campus . But he may be lacking in confidence, all the more after being yanked as starter in the middle of last season and barely seeing the field after that.
McGloin possesses the latter quality, perhaps to a fault, and plays with a chip on his shoulder. However, no matter how you slice it, is more physically limited and has yet to show he will accept that he probably is best in a care-taker role.
Of the two, McGloin looked much better in the monsoon that was the Blue-White Game, going 5-for-10 for 109 yards and a touchdown while Bolden missed on all six of his passes.
The feeling here is Bolden shouldn't have lost his job because of an injury he sustained while having his best game against Minnesota. The Lions probably would have finished about the same record as they had with McGloin had they stuck with Bolden or at least played him a little more, and Penn State would have won more games in the future because of the experience he would have gained in the second half of 2010.
Now, the Lions are in a bit of a Catch-22. Bolden needs to play to get better at the parts of the game he needs to maximize his athletic ability, the areas where McGloin, who is much closer to his ceiling, has the advantage. However, Joe Paterno has never liked alternating quarterbacks and answered one question in the press conference that "We'll play the guy we think is the best guy.''
A danger is that the situation, if not properly addressed, could divide the team as much as it has polarized the fan base.
Despite Lion coach Joe Paterno's recent comments that he hasn't even spoken to Bolden yet about the potential transfer, you would think probably -- hopefully -- he has a much better lay of the land than he's letting on. While it does sometimes do things that leave you scratching your head, this is a smart coaching staff with an undeniable track record. That's good, because it will take a lot of savvy to make sure this sticky situation plays out well.
With or without Rob Bolden, Penn State's football program will survive and likely thrive. Just how much and in what form should be determined within the next month.
Cmor can be reached at 946-7440 or email@example.com.