As the weeks count down until opening kickoff, it’s hard to find too many holes in Penn football’s personnel. Big names like Justin Watson, Louis Vecchio, Tre Solomon and Mason Williams headline a group of 11 returning All-Ivy selections, which is a full four more than Princeton — the squad with the second-most All-Ivy players coming back.
So while there aren’t too many questions regarding which players will take the field when the 2017 season gets under way, it’s no secret that one large uncertainty still hangs over the squad, one that by and large may determine whether Penn can turn its three-peat dreams into a reality. For the Red and Blue, the offseason's biggest question is, who’s going to be calling the shots on offense as quarterback?
As goes without saying, whoever finds himself as the next starting quarterback will have some giant shoes to fill after the graduation of current Atlanta Falcon Alek Torgersen, who is the all-time program leader in passing yards, touchdowns and completion percentage. But fortunately for coach Ray Priore’s program, there’s no shortage of talent vying to be the next face of the offense.
Naturally, the conversation begins with the only two returning quarterbacks from last fall’s championship squad: rising sophomore Tyler Herrick and rising senior Will Fischer-Colbrie. As the lone quarterbacks taking reps in the backfield during spring practices, the returnees have the advantage of having operated in offensive coordinator John Reagan’s scheme before.
Though neither has thrown a regular season pass in his Penn career, Fischer-Colbrie would appear to have the edge based on experience — the 20-year-old actually spent some time on an FBS roster, signing with Colorado out of high school before transferring to Penn at the conclusion of his freshman season.
FBS-to-FCS transfers are rare, but Fischer-Colbrie happens to have a classmate who did the same in senior linebacker Colton Moskal, who joined the Red and Blue program after playing for Syracuse in 2014. And if the career path of the latter, who finished fourth in the Ivy League with 89 tackles in 2016, is any indication, Fischer-Colbrie could be in awfully good shape if he does finally get his own starters’ minutes.
But even with Fischer-Colbrie’s advantage in both age and FBS experience, Herrick showed no intentions of backing down during the early stages of the ongoing competition. Though significantly smaller than his senior counterpart — Fischer-Colbrie physically resembles Torgersen quite well at 6-foot-1, 215 pounds, while Herrick is listed at the same height but only 178 pounds — the rising sophomore certainly has proven himself to be more mobile, as the explosive dual-threat rushed for 1,994 yards in addition to his 5,138 passing yards over two seasons starting for Hutto High School in Texas.
If the past two seasons, in which Torgersen rushed for 14 touchdowns, have shown anything, it’s that Reagan isn’t afraid to keep defenses on their feet by letting his quarterbacks run in the option game, which could bode well for the sophomore. Indeed, as of the end of spring ball in April, there really was no separating the two.
“Right now it’s still open game,” Priore told the DP after the team’s spring game. “I think anytime you have a transition at the quarterback position we’re not gonna make those decisions until we’re into camp. Guys have worked really hard going through the spring, have showed great promise, understanding what we do offensively, which is the most important part.”
But the best part? Those two aren’t even the only feasible options, as a pair of newcomers could very quickly break into the mix with strong efforts in summer camp.
Like Fischer-Colbrie, rising sophomore Nick Robinson enters with an FBS pedigree — his college career began as a walk-on at SEC power Georgia, where he redshirted during the 2015 season. But unlike the remainder of his competition for the Penn starting job, Robinson does have in-game experience at the collegiate level too; he spent last fall starting at Saddleback, a junior college near his Southern California home.
And though the competition was undoubtedly a notch lower than what he’ll see in the Ivy League, his numbers didn’t leave much to complain about — 2,127 passing yards (8.5 per attempt), 16 touchdowns, seven interceptions, and Team Offensive MVP honors as he led his squad to a 9-2 record.
But perhaps the best sign of Robinson’s prowess actually comes from his high school days, where he starred for JSerra Catholic with eventual Penn teammates Sam Philippi, Conor O’Brien and Riley O’Brien. Playing in the notoriously difficult Trinity League — rated by MaxPreps as the nation’s most difficult league in Robinson’s junior year, and the second best the following season — he threw 22 touchdowns to only three interceptions as a senior, leading his school to its first-ever playoff appearance.
For his efforts, he was named the Trinity League co-MVP, sharing the honor with another quarterback named Josh Rosen — the same Josh Rosen who plays for UCLA and has already been projected as the potential No. 1 overall NFL draft pick in 2018.
Rounding out the list of candidates is the only freshman of the bunch, Ryan Glover. And while he may be the youngest of the group, he was actually the most highly touted coming out of high school. Though never on an FBS roster like Fischer-Colbrie and Robinson, Glover verbally committed to Colorado State last summer before changing routes during his senior year, and also held scholarship offers from Southern Mississippi, Ohio and Minnesota, among others.
The 34th-ranked dual-threat QB nationally in his class by 247Sports, Glover may have had the best prep career of all, having accounted for 74 touchdowns and only nine interceptions over two seasons starting at Woodward Academy (GA) en route to back-to-back Georgia AAAA Player of the Year honors. Sure, no true freshman has ever started an entire season for Penn at the sport’s most important position, making him the natural underdog, but recruits of Glover’s caliber don’t come by every day either.
So who’s it gonna be? Even if we might not know for sure until Penn’s first game on September 16, it’s clear that one of Penn football’s most important competitions of the 2017 season has already begun.