The selection of true freshman Robert Bolden to start today's season opener against Youngstown State is a bold move for Penn State.
Time will tell if the move is the right one.
Bolden is the man of the moment, however, although the race to replace the graduated Daryll Clark at the helm of the Nittany Lions' Spread HD attack is likely far from over.
Someone has to start today's game, so why not Bolden? Joe Paterno likes to go with experience, but the Lions lack that behind center with the departure of Clark, who held the starter's role the past two seasons, leading PSU to a 22-4 mark, including last year's 11-2 record and a win over LSU in the Capitol One Bowl.
The Lions were due to face this situation when Pat Devlin decided to transfer out of Happy Valley following the 2008 season, leaving Clark to run the offense but taking PSU's depth at quarterback with him. Devlin, by the way, threw for three touchdowns in Delaware's 31-0 win over West Chester Thursday night.
Last year Clark was backed up by Kevin Newsome and West Scranton product Matt McGloin, both sophomores this season. If one listens to Paterno, both are still very much in contention for playing time; they are listed with Bolden as 1A, 1B and 1C on the Lions' depth chart.
Newsome was 8-for-11 for 66 yards in limited duty last year, while McGloin attempted just two passes.
There's also Paul Jones, another freshman who showed some good flashes in the Lions' annual Blue and White Spring Game. Jones, a Sto-Rox High School graduate, appears headed for a red shirt season, primarily to get his academics in order, Paterno noted.
Bolden gets the starting nod today, making him the first true freshman to start at QB since Wally Richardson did so against Cincinnati in 1992.
Bolden was highly rated by scouting services such as ESPN.com and Rivals.com. At 6-3, 221, Bolden was a dual threat at St. Mary's Prep in Orchard Lake, Michigan, totaling more than 2,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing. He has the skills to operate the Lions' offense, although don't count out the others, either.
"Based on what we have seen to this point, Bolden has a slight edge right now, but we are confident all three quarterbacks are ready to go and hope to give them an opportunity to play until we settle on the one that gives us the best chance to win," Paterno said Wednesday in announcing Bolden as today's starter.
The match-up with Youngstown State can be considered an audition for the position. With defending national champion and top-ranked Alabama on tap next week, the quarterback crew doesn't have a lot of time for growing pains.
The Lions lost four starters on offense and nine on defense as they open the 2010 season ranked 19th in the Associated Press writers poll.
While quarterback is up in the air, PSU is in better shape at running back, led by senior Evan Royster, who is poised to become the Lions' all-time leading rusher. He needs 381 yards to surpass record holder Curt Warner's 3,398 after rushing for 1,167 last year.
Also back is speedy junior Stephfon Green, who added 319 yards, although he has been banged up. Curtis Drake is listed as out with a leg injury.
There is a veteran receiving corps. Derek Moye caught 48 passes last year and Graham Zug 46. Senior Brett Brackett is also back, and sophomore Devon Smith is listed as a starting receiver in the three wide-out set.
Tight ends Andrew Quarless and Mickey Shuler have graduated. Gary Gilliam is listed as the starter there. Andrew Szczerba is listed as doubtful with a back injury.
The offensive line has some holes to fill with the loss of tackles Dennis Landolt and Ako Poti, and there has been some position shifting as well. Doug Klopecz is at center, backed by Blue Mountain graduate Matt Stankiewitch. Stefen Wisniewski, last year's center, and DeOn'Tae Pannell are at the guards, with Lou Eliades and Quinn Barham at the tackles. Johnnie Troutman also started at guard last year.
Collin Wagner returns as placekicer.
The defense lost a number of quality performers, most notably tackle Jared Odrick, end Jerome Hayes and an outstanding trio of linebackers in Navorro Bowman, Sean Lee and Josh Hull. Cornerback A.J. Wallace is also gone, as is punter Jeremy Boone.
End Jack Crawford and tackle Ollie Ogbu return to anchor the defensive line, joined by Devon Still at tackle and Eric Lattimore at end.
The linebacking corps includes Bani Gbadyu, Nate Stupar and Chris Colasanti, but junior Michael Mauti, who missed last year with an injury, and Gerald Hodges should also see action. "We've got at least five, maybe six kids that are good athletes who can be good linebackers," said Paterno at his weekly press conference.
The secondary includes cornerback D'Anton Lynn, with Nick Sukay at free safety and Drew Astorino at hero (strong safety). Chaz Powell, who has been at cornerback, has been moved back to offense to compensate for some of the injuries on that side of the ball, Paterno mentioned this week. Stephon Morris will be at the other corner.
Anthony Fera is listed as Boone's replacement at punter.
Youngstown State (which was Ohio State's Jim Tressel's old coaching grounds) has a new coach in Eric Wolford, a native of Youngstown. Wolford was offensive line coach at South Carolina last year. He inherits a team that went 6-5 last year.
The Penguins will start Kurt Hess, a reshirt freshman, at quarterback. Much of the rest of the skill positions are also inexperienced, with running back Jamaine Cook getting just 20 carries last year. Only one of the starting receivers, Dominique Barnes, caught a pass for YSU last year.
Defensively, the Penguins have nine of the 11 first teamers having started at least one game a year ago. Free safety Andre Elliott is the top returning tackler with 63 stops last year, followed by cornerback Brandian Ross, who had 47.
Kicker Stephen Blose hit on 9-of-16 field goal attempts last year, with a long of 48 yards.
"We don't know enough about Youngstown," admitted Paterno. "I'm worried about Youngstown because it's been very difficult, (with them having) new coaches, new coordinators, to know what to expect. So we may have to play that by the seat of our pants for in that ball game, and that may have some bearing on how we end up with the quarterback situation."
The Lions have faced Youngstown once before, posting a 37-3 win at Beaver Stadium in 2006. The Lions rushed for 389 yards in that game, which might be a good tactic for this afternoon, given the inexperience behind center.
NITTANY NOTES - Paterno, in his 45th year as head coach, needs six more wins to reach the 400-victory mark for his career .... today's game is being televised by the Big Ten Network ... this is also the 50th anniversary of Beaver Stadium ... a tough road schedule has the Lions facing three preseason Top 10 teams (Alabama, Ohio State and Iowa) away from Happy Valley .... It has been announced that Penn State will be in the same division as Illinois, Indiana, Ohip State, Wisconsin and Purdue when the Big Ten realigns next year with the addition of 12th member Nebraska. The Lions will also play three crossover games and will face Nebraska as their guaranteed crossover on an annual basis. That means the only Michigan team on the PSU 2011 schedule will be Eastern Michigan, unless the Lions would face Michigan or Michigan State in the new Big Ten title game.