The new offensive schemes that O'Brien brought with him from the New England Patriots put a bunch of responsibility on that position. Which of course hasn't always been the case in the past, when inconsistency at times defined the oft-vanilla approach when the Nittany Lions had the ball.
At least on paper, that's no longer the MO.
"The quarterback just runs the offense," explained fifth-year senior Matt McGloin, a former walk-on who has thrown for 1,500 yards each of the past two seasons. "Coach makes the call, and it's up to me to get us in the right formations, and the right play. We're definitely not used to doing that at Penn State. Coach puts a lot of faith and trust in you. You want to do the best you can because you want to make him believe that you're capable of doing that.
"It's been great. It's the offense I've always dreamed of playing in. Let me see what I see, and do what we can to make it work. I've got a notebook full of notes. It's amazing."
McGloin began the 2010 season in a three-way battle with Kevin Newsome and Rob Bolden, who are now at Temple and LSU, respectively. The Scranton native wound up starting five times from mid-October on. Last year he started the last five games but missed the Outback Bowl after suffering a concussion when he got punched in the head by former teammate Curtis Drake. Now the gig is his, although O'Brien made it clear that third-year sophomore Paul Jones will play.
"I feel good about Matt," O'Brien said. "He's definitely made a ton of progress. This is a guy, the more you're around him the more you really enjoy coaching him.
"He's a competitor, he's smart, he's understanding defenses better, understanding what's the best play to run vs. what he reads. It's been fun watching [the development]."
But obviously it's still just training camp. The real fun will be seeing if he can get it done to the level that O'Brien is seeking, starting Sept. 1 against Ohio.
"I'm definitely excited," said McGloin, who's completed 54 percent of his career passes, with 22 TDs and 14 interceptions. "I don't think we're too far apart, Tom Brady and myself. But sure, we've watched him a lot over the spring and summer. I mean, who better to try and learn from than him? Hopefully, we'll have some type of success like they did. But you can't expect to go out and be the same as the New England Patriots.
"I'm not going to sit here and tell you we're going to put up 50 points a game. I don't know. We'll find out what type of team we are. Right now we're improving each and every day, putting more and more stuff in. You can see yourself getting better on film. Hopefully we'll continue to climb from here."
They'll have to do it with a line that's missing four starters from a year ago. And without a running back, Silas Redd, who took his immense talents to Southern Cal when the NCAA sanctions gave him the opening. And they'll have to figure out who's going to be catching passes, since none of the wideouts out there have done much of anything yet. That doesn't mean they can't. That's where O'Brien is supposed to make a difference. Still, it's a process.
"We're having fun playing the game of football, more than ever," McGloin said. "We're so much closer as a team, so much closer with the coaching staff. And most importantly, we feel like we're much more closer to the fans. That's what it's all about."
Scandals will do that. You have to lean on the guy next to you, because who else is there? At some point it has to translate onto the field. Or all the good feelings in the galaxy aren't going to mean nearly as much.
"You can say we're playing with a chip on our shoulders, but at the same time it's [still] football," McGloin said. "You have to put your time in. We've only been learning this for a few months. It's not something you're going to get overnight. Watching it isn't the same as actually doing it. But the mistakes so far [at practice] have been pretty minor. If we fix them, we'll be fine.
"Confidence is at an all-time high, not just myself but everybody on the team. It's great to see that. We did a lot of work by ourselves in the summer. We were throwing multiple times a week. Guys know what they're doing.
"The spotlight's on us. But a lot of guys like that. We're here to play football. With a playbook like this, you definitely need to be a 24-hour quarterback. You take your bumps and learn from that. I'm comfortable with where we are.
"The terminology," he went on, "is like learning a foreign language, to be honest. It's crazy. It gives you headaches at night. But it allows me to make some big decisions."
All that's left is to make enough right ones.
Contact Mike Kern at firstname.lastname@example.org