Could Penn State actually start a freshman quarterback this season?
Anyone who has followed Joe Paterno's career knows the saying by heart - "I'd rather play a freshman two weeks too late than one day too soon" - so even the possibility is a major surprise.
But according to information dripping out of the Nittany Lions' preseason camp, true freshman Robert Bolden is the most talented of the four quarterback candidates.
The coaching staff is reportedly leaning toward redshirting another freshman, Paul Jones, who arrived on the PSU campus in January and played impressively in the Blue-White Game.
Bolden, a 6-foot-4 stud from Michigan, has apparently shown he's closer to being ready than Jones, and he may also be a better option than rumored sophomore frontrunner Matt McGloin or fellow soph Kevin Newsome.
A word of caution: Don't bet your season parking pass on it.
I don't think it will be a true freshman for several reasons:
n Though Bolden may look like the best, he's only been performing in scrimmages and in front of the Big Ten Network's traveling bus, not 107,000-plus.
n The coaching staff and the team barely know him.
n If a true freshman starts and gets knocked around and loses his confidence - like at Alabama - can the staff really then turn to the older prospects who have already been told they're not good enough? Newsome may be demoralized at that point, and it's doubtful a former walk-on like McGloin can provide the energy that will be needed following what could well be a lopsided loss in Tuscaloosa.
n Conversely, it's more likely they'll tab McGloin or Newsome early for a manage-the-game approach, and if things aren't going well, the staff can turn to Bolden later in September, when Kent State or Temple are in town, and thus groom him in time for the Big Ten opener - which, brace yourself, is at Iowa.
None of the scenarios are terribly appealing, and the team no doubt would be much more poised for its schedule had the staff been able to keep Pat Devlin from racing to Delaware.
Penn State has always given its upperclassmen the first crack, but as JoePa said at media day, Newsome is not an upperclassman. The Nits scrambled to get Newsome on short notice after Devlin left, and therefore he was not someone they necessarily coveted all along.
As a starter, the development of Bolden could be severely impeded by a whipping at Alabama, which could then set the quarterback position back even further. If Bolden is viewed as the best player down the road, it's doubly important for him to be standing by mid-October.
One thing possibly working in favor of a freshman starting could be the fact that JoePa has deferred more decisions to his assistants the last few years, and especially lately, and he's given particular leeway to his son Jay, the team's quarterbacks coach and or "co-offensive coordinator" as the BTN called him.
JayPa might be more eager to roll the dice than his dad.
Except that they're still his dad's dice.
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.