Sometime today, former Penn State quarterback Pat Devlin will likely be drafted into the NFL and become the first ex-Nittany Lion signal caller to be selected in over a decade. Of course, there's a caveat to that statement, though: Pat Devlin finished his college career at Delaware.
After falling to Daryll Clark in the Penn State quarterback competition of 2008, Devlin left the program at the end of the season. Since then, his name has been a lightning rod for controversy across the Penn State sphere.
It's hard to put a finger on exactly what burns Penn State fans up about Devlin. Some think he should have won the competition with Clark. Others think he quit on the program, unwilling to wait his turn. Put those two camps on opposite sides and they'll argue for hours, fanatically in some cases. Most fans, though, can probably agree that he's a great talent that got away, and that Penn State has suffered, both directly and indirectly, without him ever since.
Worst of all, most of the wounds he left Penn State with were self-inflicted and only highlighted/continue to highlight poor roster management rather than causing it.
When Devlin left before the 2009 Rose Bowl, Penn State had only Clark available as a scholarship quarterback for that game. The following signing day, the staff nabbed Kevin Newsome, a four-star ranked recruit from Virginia, and installed him as Clark's back up.
At the time, it looked like everything would be OK, and because Clark played most all of an 11-2 campaign in 2009, history will say it turned out to be. However, you could argue the staff was more lucky than good in it's management of that season. In 2010, Newsome was beaten out at quarterback by both former walk-on Matthew McGloin and true freshman Robert Bolden, neither of whom played particularly well.
Had Newsome been forced into duty for any extended period of time in 2009, Penn State would have been in a lot of trouble. Clark had no true back-up, nor slightly younger heir apparent. Just a freshman with a nice recruiting ranking, athleticism, and little else.
With Clark out of the picture in 2010, Penn State suffered from Devlin's departure even more. Rather than employing him as redshirt senior starting quarterback, Penn State opened the season with Bolden and eventually turned to McGloin. Both produced mixed results at best.
Then the real fun started. Both Bolden and Newsome threatened transfers at the end of the season and both quarterbacks' future with the program remains uncertain. To make things worse, fans have been all over the staff for failing to develop the two players, given its mixed history of failing to get results out of highly recruited prospects like former five-stars Devlin and Anthony Morelli.
Considering both Bolden and Newsome were underclassmen in 2010, that kind of criticism probably takes the eye off the ball, however. Penn State under Joe Paterno has rarely had success when counting on underclassmen, so 2010's struggles are more a product of straying from traditional Paterno values of sticking with upperclassmen than a failure in development. Fans are so blinded by recruiting rankings, stars and expectations that they're too blind to realize these guys haven't been around very long. 'Five-star" doesn't necessarily mean "Already good enough." It means the tools are there to become a great quarterback.
The fair criticism, then, is of the staff's roster management. It put all its eggs in the Devlin basket for 2010, then dropped the basket. This forced guys who clearly weren't ready to make an impact into duty. Now, the staff has at least two, and if you believe some people, three unhappy underclassmen all fighting for one football with a slightly more experienced former walk-on.
That's not a tenable situation.Someone is going to be unhappy, and someone if not some people, are going to leave.
If Penn State is lucky, one of these young guys will step up and produce in 2011 and moving forward the next couple of years. That will only put a band-aid on the problem of roster management, however. If players transfer, whichever player wins this quarterback derby will likely be without a suitable backup as the next Kevin Newsome is brought in. Then, once that winner of the current competition leaves, or worse, is injured mid-stream, Penn State could find itself back in the throes of another messy quarterback competition between underclassmen, rather than being able to just plug in one uppserclassmen ready to do the job after another.
Master and apprentice. Jedi and Padawan. Whatever you're lame analogy, that's generally how a football program should operate if it's interested in stability. Right now, Penn State not only doesn't have stability, it's doing little to set itself up for it in the future. Having a bunch of highly regarded guys battling it out is good for the competition, but ultimately, competitions have losers, and losers don't stick around. Then you're just an injury away from truly bad football.
UPDATE: Well, Pat Devlin didn't get picked. So much for that.