Penn State Football Transfer Talk: What Danny, Davey and Bill O’Brien All Have in Common
For Penn State quarterback history buffs, Danny O’Brien’s snub of Bill O’Brien conjures up some memories of Davey O’Brien.
The last time there was this much O’buzz about a possible quarterback transfer at Penn State – to or from – Jeff Hostetler was high-tailing it out of Happy Valley and heading for Morgantown, W.Va.
It was early 1981 when Hostetler’s hotly-contested battle with Todd Blackledge had finally run its course, so Hoss – the one-time starter-turned-backup – transferred to West Virginia.
Two other highly recruited Nittany Lion backup quarterbacks also have left in recent years – Pat Devlin transferred to Delaware and Kevin Newsome took a roundabout journey to Temple.
But they didn’t have the same star power or credentials as Hostetler.
After sitting out a year because of NCAA transfer rules, Hostetler quickly became the unspoken leader of the Mountaineers in 1982 and ’83, leading head coach Don Nehlen’s program to an 18-6 record while setting several single-season passing records.
Hostetler, a 15-year NFL veteran, later led the New York Giants to the NFC title and guided them to a 20-19 victory over the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXV while playing in place of injured Phil Simms.
Blackledge, on the other hand, ended up as a three-year starter for the Nittany Lions. He guided Penn State to a 31-5 record and in 1982 he delivered the first of former head coach Joe Paterno’s two national championships.
That’s where the O’Brien angle comes into play.
As a senior, Blackledge was named the best college quarterback in the country and won the Davey O’Brien Award – named after the first college football player to win the Heisman, Maxwell and Walter Camp trophies in the same year. Subsequently, Blackledge was a first-round draft pick of the Kansas City Chiefs.
However, don’t confuse Davey O’Brien with Danny, the much-ballyhooed Maryland quarterback who visited Penn State’s practice on Monday and even slipped on a jacket with a PSU logo to keep warm outside on the practice field.
Still – despite visiting Penn State’s campus twice – when it came time to pick his final transfer destination on Wednesday, Danny O’Brien opted for Wisconsin, not Penn State.
He preferred Madison over Mount Nittany, and Bret Bielema’s offensive system over that of Bill O’Brien, even though both schemes are quarterback-friendly.
“It was close,” Danny O’Brien said on a teleconference Wednesday. “It was a very tough decision. I think it came down to Wisconsin and [Penn State]. I have a pretty tight relationship with Coach O’Brien and he’s going to do some great things there.
“It was a pretty similar situation in a lot of respects - great people, great players, felt good there. But there was no denying after I took the Wisconsin visit [this past weekend], and especially after talking with my family about it, that Wisconsin was home,” added O’Brien, a native of Kernersville, N.C.
“It just felt more like the place I wanted to be. Penn State was a great opportunity that a lot of people are lucky to have. But Wisconsin was clearly to me the place that I wanted to be.
“It was kind of the complete package for what I was looking for. The style of offense, the coaching staff I connected with, the players I connected with. It’s a great school to go to."
Had O’Brien chosen the Nittany Lions, he would have been the No. 1 quarterback based on credentials alone even though it likely would have created a divide among the team – much the same way the Matt McGloin-Rob Bolden shuffle has the past two years.
As a freshman at Maryland in 2010, Danny O’Brien threw for 2,438 yards and 22 touchdowns, with only eight interceptions, and was named ACC rookie of the year. He operated in a pro-style offense under former head coach Ralph Friedgen, Bill O’Brien’s buddy who in January was linked as a candidate to serve as BOB’s offensive coordinator at Penn State.
But after the Terrapins switched to more of a run-and-shoot offense under Randy Edsall this past season, Danny O’Brien’s numbers did a nosedive. He tossed 10 interceptions, but had only seven touchdown passes and suffered a broken left arm.
O’Brien, a redshirt junior with 17 career starts, will have two years of eligibility remaining after graduating from Maryland with his undergraduate degree in business this spring.
He is the second consecutive quarterback the Badgers have plucked from ACC country. Russell Wilson led the Badgers to the Big Ten championship, beat Penn State 45-7 and was named first-team all-conference in 2011 after transferring from North Carolina State.
"We're excited that Danny has chosen to attend Wisconsin," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said in a statement Wednesday. "The first thing we did when we were aware of Danny's interest was to try and find out what type of person he was and if he would fit into our program.
“From our dealings with him and all the things I have heard from those who have been around him, he is a tremendous person and has great character."
Meanwhile, the Penn State coaching staff must be smarting from Danny O'Brien's decision.
It leaves the Nittany Lions plodding through the spring with McGloin and Bolden – who have shared the starting quarterback job the past two seasons – and Paul Jones, who has yet to take a snap in a game in two seasons primarily because of poor academics. Steven Bench, a 2012 recruit from Georgia, will join the mix this summer.
It will be interesting to see what kind of treatment Danny O’Brien receives on Nov. 24 when he and the Badgers visit Beaver Stadium.
“It will be a weird, awkward game, I’ll tell you that,” O’Brien’s high school coach, Todd Willert, said Wednesday.
By then, it’s possible some Penn State fans won’t even remember which O’Brien he was anyway – Danny, Davey or Conan.