OPINION: A Poor Timing Pattern

That Penn State backup quarterback Pat Devlin is transferring is not surprising. But when he opted to make the move is.

So Penn State backup quarterback Pat Devlin is moving on. And if you're surprised by the fact that he left the program, well, you shouldn't be.

The redshirt sophomore was in a tough spot. He spent the off-season battling Daryll Clark for the starting job. When Clark won the position in the preseason, time was suddenly running out on Devlin.

Back then, Clark had two years of eligibility remaining — 2008 and 2009. Devlin had three, stretching out to 2010. So if form held, Devlin was looking at having one season as a starter.

And in 2008, form not only held, but Clark excelled, leading the Nittany Lions to an 11-1 regular season, Big Ten title and Rose Bowl bid. They were one second away from playing for the national championship.

Clark became the second Penn State quarterback to win first-team All-Big Ten honors, joining 1994 star Kerry Collins.

So barring injury, he was and is going to be the starter in 2009.

And you have to wonder if the Penn State coaching staff didn't compound the uncertainty for Devlin following the Ohio State victory, when he took over for Clark (who was knocked out with a concussion) during the fourth quarter and led the game-winning touchdown drive.

The next game, at Iowa, Clark started. But because he was still recovering from the concussion, the offensive coaches implemented a Wildcat formation where receiver Derrick Williams took direct snaps on several plays. The idea was to have Williams run the ball from the quarterback position so Clark didn't have to.

Not exactly a vote of confidence for Devlin.

Devlin is no dummy. He saw where this was headed and decided to cut his losses and head to another program. And if you look at the situation objectively, it is difficult to blame him for making that decision.

But the timing of the move? Well, that wasn't exactly a stroke of genius.

Yeah, I know, a lot of Penn State fans are all riled up that Devlin is letting down the team at the worst possible time. The Nittany Lions face powerful USC in the Rose Bowl Jan. 1, and now, if Clark is injured, they must rely on the Wildcat and/or contributions from career third-teamer Paul Cianciolo to get by.

Before calling him a traitor, though, remember that Devlin is 20 years old, was probably trying to sort this thing out for the last month (if not longer) and has been nothing but a team player to this point of his career. He deserves the benefit of the doubt.

The fact that his father told the Harrisburg Patriot-News that he did not know anything about his son transferring a couple of hours after FOS broke the story leads one to believe the kid wasn't thinking straight at all.

Indeed, in terms of his future, making the move now — as opposed to after the Rose Bowl — is a classic example of reacting before reading.

Think about it. Penn State is playing what many experts believe to be the best defense in the nation. The 2007 All-Big Ten quarterback was Ohio State's Todd Boeckman. His career essentially died in an early season blowout loss to the Trojans in Los Angeles earlier this season.

Meanwhile, Clark has a history of concussions. He is obviously THE key component to the Penn State offense. Is there just the slightest chance that Pete Carroll will throw the proverbial kitchen sink at him?

NOBODY is hoping Clark is injured in the game. But it clearly could happen. He has played meaningful snaps (when a game has been on the line) in 14 career games now, and was knocked out of two of them (Michigan in 2006, Ohio State this year) after having his bell rung.

For Devlin to pass up the opportunity - slight though it may be - to showcase his talents against an outstanding opponent in what figures to be the second most-watched game of the season (behind only the BCS title tilt) makes no sense whatsoever.

If there had been an advantage to bolting before the bowl, it would be understandable. But from all indications, Devlin intends to transfer down a level, to the ranks formerly known as Division I-AA. This will prevent him from having to sit out a season under NCAA transfer rules, and allow him two more seasons of competition as opposed to the one he would have had had he remained at the major college level.

The point is, he would have been eligible to play at a Championship Subdivision program in 2009 whether or not he competed in the Rose Bowl.

From this angle, a much better approach would have been to stay with the team through the Rose Bowl, sit down with head coach Joe Paterno early next year to discuss options, and then make a decision on whether to stay or go.

I know it's cliché, but by all accounts Devlin is a good kid from a good family. And while he didn't have much of a chance to prove it on the field in 2008, everything we've heard suggests he's a talented quarterback, too.

Here's wishing him the best of luck in future endeavors.

Hopefully the next time he faces a tough decision, he reads first and then reacts.

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