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Ranking the Top (and Bottom) 12 Penn State Quarterbacks to Transfer

by on December 12, 2014 12:12 AM

Michael O’Connor, meet Jeff Hostetler. And Pat Devlin.

O’Conner -- a freshman in 2014 by way of Canada and sports conglomerate IMG – is the latest in a long lion of Penn State quarterbacks to transfer.

Hoss was the best QB ever to leave Penn State for another school (West Virginia). O’Connor is just the latest to leave.

And he did so a la Devlin.

Devlin departed in 2008 between the end of the regular season and before Penn State went to the Rose Bowl. That move came six weeks after Devlin led Penn State on two scoring drives for a 13-6 win over Ohio State after starter Daryll Clark was injured

Still, things didn’t turn out too badly for Hostleter and Devlin. Both had successful college careers and both made it to the NFL – and Hostetler in a super way.

In 1980, Hostetler won the Nittany Lions’ starting quarterback job over Todd Blackledge. But just four games into the season, Blackledge was named the starter. It was the right decision by Joe Paterno; Blackledge was 29-4 as a starter, led PSU to its first national championship in 1982 and was a first-round NFL draft pick in 1983.

Hostetler transferred to West Virginia after the ’80 season, sat out a year and in his very first game at WVU in 1982 he led the Mountaineers to a 41-27 upset of No. 6 Oklahoma, throwing for four TDs. He had an 18-6 record at West Virginia, but his biggest victory came off the field; Hostetler married the daughter (Vicky) of WVU head coach Don Nehlen.

From 1984 to 1998, Hoss played in the NFL with New York, Oakland/L.A. and Washington. His crowning achievement was he led the Giants to a 20-19 win over Buffalo in Super Bowl XXV after regular starter Phil Simms was injured a few weeks earlier.

In 2009, Devlin transferred to Delaware and started for two seasons, throwing for nearly 6,000 yards, with 37 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions. Since Delaware was a FCS team, Devlin played immediately. He guided the Blue Hens to a 6-5 record in 2009 and a 12-3 mark in 2010, taking them to the FCS title game. He was with Miami in the NFL for three seasons, and was signed to the Minnesota Vikings’ practice squad on Nov. 3, 2014.

You couldn’t fault Paterno for giving the starting job to Clark, either. He was 22-4 as a starter, threw for over 5,700 yards and had 43 touchdown passes. (Two of those losses came against Iowa, both times knocking Penn State from a Top 5 ranking or better. Maybe Devlin would have won those games, but what about the others?)

O’CONNOR PASSES ON PSU

O’Connor joins a recent run of scholarship quarterbacks who have departed Happy Valley since 2012 unhappy about their playing situation – five in all. He joins Paterno recruits Paul Jones and Rob Bolden, and Bill O’Brien recruits Steven Bench and Tyler Ferguson. O’Connor was recruited by O’Brien, then renewed his commitment when James Franklin succeeded O’Brien.

O’Connor’s transfer was first made public on Thursday by Ryan Snyder, the recruiting savant for Blue-White Illustrated. But news quickly spread that O’Connor – who didn’t play a down this season – was leaving town.

His departure leaves sophomore Christian Hackenberg, who has started all 24 games of his Penn State career; versatile freshman Trace McSorley, a redshirt in 2014 and now the only other scholarship QB; and sophomore D.J. Crook, who completed 6 of 9 passes for 57 yards and a TD this season as Hackenberg’s mop-up time backup.

A DOZEN DEPARTURES

Here’s a list of former Nittany Lion quarterbacks who left Penn State for greener turf, and their mixed fortunes after transferring:

1. JEFF HOSTETLER – As I’ve recounted before, Hostetler and I had freshman English together at Penn State. Three years later, the week before West Virginia played Penn State in Hoss’ homecoming, I called him up. First thing he did was complain about his grade in that class. (I really think it’s why he transferred.) Read my 1982 Collegian interview with Hoss here, and if you see Jack Selzer on campus or at The Corner Room, blame him for Hostetler’s departure.

2. PAT DEVLIN – As a senior at Delaware in 2010, he ranked first in the NCAA in pass completion percentage (68.3%) and third in passing efficiency (155.37). He earned consensus All-America honors, was a finalist for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award and played in the East-West Shrine Game.

3. STEVE JOACHIM -- Proclaimed “the best second-string quarterback in America” by the late Ralph Bernstein, an Associated Press legend, Joachim transferred to Temple after playing No. 2 to John Hufnagel in 1971. (Joachim threw for 7 TDs on 16 of 41 passing in 1971.) In 1973-74, Joachim led Temple to a 17-3 record and won the 1974 Maxwell Award after leading the nation in total offense, with 2,227 yards (or, as I prefer to call it, the second half of the TCU-Baylor game).

4. JOHN SACCA – The younger brother of Tony, a Penn State quarterback of much greater renown, John was PSU’s starting QB as a sophomore in 1992, passing for 1,118 yards, with 9 TDs and 3 interceptions. That made five straight years of a Sacca topping the Penn State passing charts (Tony led in 1988-91). Four games into the 1993 season some guy named Kerry Collins replaced John as the starter. Sacca transferred to Division I-AA Eastern Kentucky the next season, leading it to a 10-3 record and the division quarterfinals. His single-season stats: 105 of 209 for 1,580 yards, with 11 TDs and 7 picks. He also ran for 304 yards and 12 TDs.

5. ROB BOLDEN – In 2010, he was first true Penn State freshman to start at quarterback in 100 years. By the end of that season, he wanted to transfer. (Many fans did too.) Paterno refused to sign off on it. He should have. Bolden had a very up-and-then mostly down career that hit rock bottom his final game at Penn State. That was the 2012 TicketCity Bowl, when he completed 7 of 26 passes for 137 yards, one TD and three interceptions. He transferred to LSU, where he never played and even moved to wide receiver. In 2014, he transferred to Eastern Michigan, where he had a couple of starts and some miserable stats: 41 of  95 passes (43.2%), 399 yards, 4 TD passes and 5 interceptions, He ran 57 times for 89 yards.

6. TYLER FERGUSON – Popular among his teammates, he was beat out by Hackenberg, a freshman, for the starting job in 2013. That season, he was 10 of 15 for 155 yards and a TD pass in mop-up duty, then beat it out of town to Louisville.

7. STEVEN BENCH -- He was Matt McGloin’s backup in 2012, and – cue the CBS Final Four music – his one shining moment came in the Virginia game, when he had a couple of nice runs and completed a pair of passes while McGloin shook off an injury. When O’Brien told Bench he was a bench player at the end of spring drills in 2013, he took his talents to South Florida, where didn’t have to sit out a season due to the NCAA sanctions. In two seasons, he’s had two starts and has completed 75 of 164 passes for 1,003 yards, with 5 TD passes and 4 interceptions. His best game was in a 49-21 loss to Miami in 2013, when he was 13 of 27 for 189 yards and a TD.

8. PAUL JONES -- A Blue-White Game phenom, Jones was beset with academic problems at Penn State. He failed get a grasp of O’Brien’s offensive scheme and moved to tight end. And then he moved off the squad. He landed at Robert Morris, where he was 5-6 as the starter in 2013 and completed 122 of 261 passes for over 1,600 yards, with 15 TD passes and 11 interceptions. He was declared ineligible for the 2014 season.

9. KEVIN NEWSOME – Newsome loved to scramble and freelance and point at the line of scrimmage, but hated to learn the playbook or understand why he was pointing. He loved to play the piano, but hated to leave Penn State (he wavered after announcing he was going; missed a bowl trip; then came back for spring ball; then finally left). Newsome ended up at Temple, where he eventually moved from QB to WR. He finally left the Owls and the sport in 2013.

10. ZAC WASSERMAN – In 2000, he came in with Zack Mills (I found the first name duality confusing) and then transferred west after some family issues back home in California. Wasserman had talent – he threw for over 8,000 yards and 90 TDs at his Thousand Oaks high school.

11. MICHAEL O’CONNOR – Michael, we hardly knew ye.

 12. AUSTIN WHIPPLE – He came to Penn State with O’Brien in 2012. O’Brien needed some extra quarterbacks for practice and OB had also coached with Whipple’s dad, Mark, at Brown in 1994. When O’Brien left for the NFL, Whipple left for UMass – where he joined his dad in his first year (and second stint) as head coach of the Minutemen. Both Whipples were on the Beaver Stadium sidelines when Penn State whipped UMass 48-7 back in September.

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Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for StateCollege.com since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/PSUPoorman. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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