Penn State quarterback Steven Bench, who was believed to be dead even with Tyler Ferguson in the race for the starting job at the end of spring practice, has been granted a release to transfer, coach Bill O’Brien said Wednesday.
In a statement released by Penn State, O’Brien said he met with Bench and other players this week to discuss “where they are at related to football and academics and to discuss what they need to work on this summer.
“After meeting with Steven, he informed me he wants to play elsewhere,” O’Brien said. “We want what is best for Steven. I want to thank him for his contributions to the program. We wish Steven the best in the future and will assist him in any way we can.”
The sudden decision by Bench means that incoming freshman Christian Hackenberg, one of the top high school quarterbacks prospects in the nation last season, will have a chance to become the starter when the Nittany Lions open the regular season Aug. 31 against Syracuse at East Rutherford, N.J.
In addition to Ferguson and Hackenberg, freshman walk-ons D.J. Crook and Austin Whipple will compete for the starting quarterback job when pre-season practice begins in early August.
Under NCAA sanctions announced last July in connection with the Jerry Sandusky scandal, Bench will be able to transfer to an FBS (Division I-A) program and play without having to sit out a year.
Bench, who saw little action last season as a true freshman backing up Matt McGloin, and Ferguson, a junior college transfer, split time with the first team throughout spring ball. Bench completed nine of 15 passes for 99 yards and a touchdown in Saturday’s Blue-White Game.
Neither player established any distance from the other, and O’Brien said after the game he was not any closer to naming the No. 1 quarterback.
“I’ve enjoyed coaching those guys,” he said. “Obviously I’ll have to make a decision but I’m not ready to make that now.”
Bench saw his most extended time last season in the team’s second game of the season at Virginia after McGloin suffered an elbow injury. He went two of seven for 12 yards, and rushed for 18 yards on three carries. He also saw mop-up duty at Purdue.
Bench took to Twitter to make his announcement to the public.
“I’ve decided to leave Penn State and go to a school that will give me the opportunity to compete for the quarterback spot and reaching my full potential,” he said in one Tweet.
Bench is the third quarterback to leave Penn State since O’Brien took over as head coach in January 2012. Rob Bolden transferred to LSU after last year’s Blue-White Game, and Paul Jones announced his desire to move early last season. Jones left for Robert Morris at the end of the fall semester.