Joe Paterno has often said Penn State could win with third-string quarterback Paul Cianciolo.
He may have to find out in the Rose Bowl.
The news of backup quarterback Pat Devlin's decision to leave the program is not only a significant distraction but could have a major impact on the Nittany Lions' preparation for Southern Cal.
Starting quarterback Daryll Clark enjoyed a spectacular 2008 season and exceeded just about all expectations in leading Penn State to an 11-1 record and a share of the Big Ten championship.
When Devlin got opportunities, particularly earlier in the season, he, too, was impressive and solidified the position. During the preseason, JoePa called his quarterbacks about even and kept reminding the media not to underestimate Cianciolo.
Clark was injured at Ohio State, which allowed Devlin to come in and manage the game-winning touchdown drive, and the Lions' 24-23 loss at Iowa can be partially attributed to an ineffective Clark, who was not sharp as he attempted to come back from a concussion.
Sources say Devlin was told he would play against Iowa and did not. However, those sources also believe this abrupt move is not the family's decision, at least not right now.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Devlin and his parents met Monday with Paterno to express concerns and perhaps seeking some assurances for the 2009 season.
And Paterno isn't somebody to play chicken with.
Devlin wouldn't lose any future eligibility by being with the team - and maybe playing - against USC; he conceivably could have been called upon on a grand stage and, most importantly, the Lions may need him.
Surely if Devlin finds refuge at a Division I-AA school (Delaware, Villanova, Richmond and James Madison are being mentioned), those destinations would wait until January for his coveted services.
Did JoePa, knowing Devlin was considering other options, nudge his backup QB out the door? Knowing Devlin's heart wasn't with the team, Paterno may have felt the need to start recruiting a backup quarterback for Clark now. If so, that could backfire against Southern Cal.
Paterno doesn't take kindly to people trying to leave the program. Safeties coach Brian Norwood was named Baylor's defensive coordinator last December and offered to stay through the Alamo Bowl. Paterno said no thanks.
Clearly, there was a communication breakdown here. Devlin's high school coach at Downingtown, Mike Matta, told the Inquirer a relationship "was never forged with him [Devlin] and his quarterbacks coach [Jay Paterno]."
JayPa's role in Clark's development is a credit to both and has been well documented. Perhaps it stung Devlin that the staff also went all out for Terrelle Pryor.
Though he didn't beat out Clark, Devlin might be just as good and might - just might - have at least as much NFL potential. And if you look at the NFL rosters these days, you have to check only as far as the Steelers' opposing quarterback this week, Baltimore's Joe Flacco, as proof that a I-AA product can make it big.
Flacco played at Delaware. In fact, quarterbacks at the lower levels are often further developed because they're called upon to do more.
Knowing that, and having to wait his turn for yet another year behind Clark and thus be the PSU starter for only 2010, Devlin called an audible. Or one was called for him.
It would seem Devlin could have waited until after the Rose Bowl, and it would also seem Paterno could have shown more patience.
Either way, Devlin's departure will put an emphasis on Penn State keeping Clark healthy, and presumably in the pocket, against USC and throughout next season.
You didn't think Clark ran enough this year?
Wait until there's a true freshman behind him in 2009 when the coaching staff that somehow put itself in a position to have only one scholarship quarterback - Clark - on the roster after Jan. 2, won't even have Cianciolo to count on.
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.