The quarterback battle between two members of the Class of 2013 at Penn State is one of the major storylines this preseason involving first-year players.
Christian Hackenberg has the physical ability to be one of the best college quarterbacks in the country over time. He already is battling junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson for the starting job at Penn State this season.
O’Brien said Thursday at Penn State’s media day that after three practices, Ferguson has a little edge on the talented true freshman.
With that, he also praised Hackenberg for his offseason study of the Nittany Lions’ playbook and one gets the sense that the former five-star recruit has a legitimate shot at opening the season as the starter when Penn State plays Syracuse on Aug. 31 at Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
Hackenberg is as talented as they come. He’s got legitimate size, a huge arm and is an above average to good athlete, so he’s not a statue standing back in the pocket. The question, if there was one, about him coming out of Fork Union Military Academy last cycle concerned production and decision-making. This was something we felt, after watching him perform at the Under Armour All-America Game during the practice sessions, that was likely more a result of supporting cast and level of competition at the high school level than any sort of telling negative sign about his ability as a prospect.
It seems as if, for a true freshman, his decision-making and ability to grasp Penn State’s pro-style attack has been a positive so far.
Ferguson is not to be slept on, though.
The 6-foot-5, 210-pound California signal caller first caught our attention at the end of his senior year of high school, when he performed at a high level at the Cal State All-Star Game in Fresno. After spending a year at the College of the Sequoias, Penn State scooped up Ferguson and he was able to enroll Jan. 7. We liked his arm and his footwork/athleticism (O’Brien praised both quarterbacks for their ability to move today) and of course, he has excellent height/size. He’s an example of why recruiting California junior colleges is a different ball game and worth the time for programs to do a little digging in with players there. Remember that Aaron Rodgers bounced from Butte College to Cal and was a first-round draft pick and subsequently an All-Pro and Super Bowl champion after receiving very little in the way of Division I interest out of Pleasant Valley High in Chico. Most of the time, junior college players are in junior college because they need to work on academics to get back to FBS, but in California there are plenty of late-bloomers or overlooked talents that are just in junior college to try to prove themselves on the field.
That very well could be the case with Ferguson. 247Sports rated him as a four-star junior college prospect for the 2013 cycle.
Dontre Wilson could make a significant impact on the Ohio State offense this season given his home run threat ability.
Wilson is a big storyline in Columbus
After being committed to Oregon for most of the process, four-star all-purpose back Dontre Wilson flipped to Ohio State and the Buckeyes have to be elated with his decision so far.
One of the most impressive things about the recruiting at Ohio State under Urban Meyer is the commitment to recruiting and signing speed at every position. Wilson was one of the fastest playmakers in the country in the 2013 cycle and that’s one reason why he may be rising to the top of the depth chart as a “hybrid” receiver/running back (the constantly-mentioned Percy Harvin role) at Ohio State.
With a veteran offensive line, plenty of depth at running back and a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback in Braxton Miller, how good can the Buckeyes be on offense if Wilson and perhaps a couple of other home run threats emerge?
No. 1 showing it
The nation’s top overall prospect for the 2013 cycle, defensive end Robert Nkemdiche, already is working with the ones at Ole Miss. Expect the talented defensive lineman to play a large number of snaps for the Rebels this season. Nkemdiche is one of five prospects to receive a “franchise” rating from 247Sports (numerical more than 100- 101). Others include South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (105 rating) and Alabama offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio (103) from the 2011 class, plus a pair of 2014 prospects from Louisiana- running back Leonard Fournette (New Orleans Saint Augustine) and offensive tackle Cameron Robinson (West Monroe) (both 101). Robinson is the No. 1 overall prospect in the 2014 class per 247Sports while Fournette, considered to be the best running back prospect since current Minnesota Vikings star Adrian Peterson, is No. 1 overall in the recruiting industry-generated 247Composite.
The country will get to see Nkemdiche quickly. Ole Miss opens up at Vanderbilt on Thursday, Aug. 29 in an ESPN-televised conference contest.
Linebacker Quinton Powell was somewhat of a late addition to USC’s 2013 class, but early reports indicate that the Trojans may have another star from Mainland High in Daytona Beach, Fla., on their hands. Leonard Williams, who had a freshman All-American type of season last year, also is a Mainland High product. ...In two of the big ACC/SEC games the opening weekend of the season, it would not be a surprise to see two of the top cornerbacks in the 2013 cycle line up and start for the ACC opponents. It’s almost a given that with Antone Exum sidelined that five-star Kendall Fuller will start in some capacity for Virginia Tech against Alabama and provided camp continues to go like it is going, 247Composite five-star Mackensie Alexander could very well start for Clemson against Georgia. ...Thanks to a huge senior year, South Carolina linebacker Skai Moore was considered to be one of the top sleeper prospects in the state of Florida out of University School in Fort Lauderdale for 2013. So far during preseason camp, Moore has impressed and has a chance to log significant snaps this season for a young Gamecocks’ linebacking corps. ...Two of Auburn’s 2013 signees- junior college transfer Nick Marshall and true freshman Jeremy Johnson are in the thick of the battle for the starting quarterback job for first-year head coach Gus Malzahn. Former four-star prospect Kiehl Frazier, who struggled last season, also is in the hunt. Marshall is the favorite to land the job at present. ...The Class of 2013 offensive linemen at Texas are making noise early during the preseason. Curtis Riser, Rami Hammad and Darius James all have impressed and offensive tackle Kent Perkins could very well see the field this season for the Horns. Texas upgrading its offensive line was a major storyline of the 2013 cycle and it appears the groundwork has been laid to do just that. ...The eyeball test is one of the most overused evaluation tools in recruiting, but one look at some of Florida State’s newcomers and these guys definitely pass that test. It’s going to be interesting to see which of the Seminoles’ 2013 recruits see the field. It may not happen this season, but look out for Tyrell Lyons. He was one of the more talked-about sleepers in the 2013 class. ...Many observers in the state of Georgia felt like 2013 Bulldogs signee Reginald Carter would be the steal of the class. He was slightly undervalued because of a major knee injury prior to his senior year out of South Gwinnett High in Snellville, Ga., but was one of those players that folks perked up about when talking about him. Carter had six tackles in the most recent UGA scrimmage. ...There hasn’t been much buzz about it, but it looks like five-star running back Thomas Tyner has impressed the Oregon coaching staff thus far. Given his size and breakaway speed, it’s not going to be a surprise if he plays this season and won’t be a surprise if he makes his share of eye-catching plays.