For the past three seasons, there was no doubt who would be manning Penn football’s most important position.
In 2017, things are a little bit different.
Following the graduation of quarterback Alek Torgersen — a two-time first-team All-Ivy selection and Penn’s all-time leader in touchdown passes — the Quakers, for the first time in coach Ray Priore's tenure, have faced an offseason of uncertainty behind center.
Compounding the problem that a program legend now plays for the Washington Redskins practice squad is the fact that Michael Collins — a highly touted recruit and Torgersen’s heir apparent — now plays for the Texas Christian University Horned Frogs after transferring following his freshman season a year ago.
Thus, the Quakers have undergone a three-way open quarterback competition this summer. All three signal-callers — senior Will Fischer-Colbrie, sophomore Nick Robinson and freshman Ryan Glover — have yet to take a single snap at the Division I level.
The team announced Wednesday that Fischer-Colbrie will be the starter for Saturday’s season opener versus Ohio Dominican, though they added in an emailed statement that it “wouldn’t be surpris[ing] to see the other QBs on the field in the first week or two.”
Fischer-Colbrie was likely given an advantage in that he was the only contender with prior seasons spent on the Penn roster — Glover only just arrived on campus while Robinson quarterbacked Georgia’s scout team in 2015 before spending 2016 at Saddleback Community College in southern California.
Fischer-Colbrie himself is a former transfer, having spent his freshman season in 2014 at Colorado. During his two seasons in University City, though, he has been buried on the depth chart, backing up Torgersen, Collins, and 2016 graduate Andrew Lisa.
Those seasons of development, however, gave the California native a valuable chance to learn the craft from Torgersen — experience the other two competitors did not have.
“He was really big for me,” Fischer-Colbrie said. “When you’ve lived through some mistakes, through some success… he makes it easy to learn from.”
Given the team’s dearth of experience behind center, one could expect Priore to be concerned with his quarterbacking prospects. However, the third-year head coach, at least publicly, has remained cautiously optimistic.
“The really nice part about it is that all three quarterbacks have done a tremendous job,” Priore said at the team’s media day August 28. “The kids have all been competing real hard.”
A fourth player, sophomore Tyler Herrick, will switch positions to wide receiver after being listed as a quarterback a year ago.
The new quarterback, whoever it may be, will have a massive weapon at his disposal in senior wide receiver Justin Watson, who enters his final campaign already the most decorated Penn player in recent memory, having been named a finalist for Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year each of the last two seasons. 2017 will likely provide a valuable insight into how much the Torgersen-Watson connection of the last three years was attributable to Watson himself.
“We’ve got two upperclassmen that have looked really good,” Watson said, noting that he has built a rapport with Robinson after living with him over the summer. “And we’ve had a freshman come in who has a cannon for an arm.
“But it’s different not seeing Torg out there,” Watson admitted. “He’s a good friend and it’s awesome to see him killing it in the NFL.”
Collins was one of two key Quakers, along with defensive back Mason Williams, to transfer out of the Ivy League over the summer (Williams will join Duke.) Despite those key losses, Priore insists his team remains undaunted.
“Our kids are very, very resilient. We worry about the guys that are here.
“It’s a next-man-up mentality.”