While a bit of an apples-oranges comparison -- the latter two Penn State quarterbacks had distinctly different skill sets, while the current ones do not -- it is at least instructive as to how Joe Paterno might be thinking right now. And how he might play things over the long haul.
The veteran coach began those 1998 and '99 seasons rotating Thompson and Casey, but over time gave most of the snaps to Thompson, while using Casey -- more athletic, but also less predictable -- as a change-up. The thinking appeared to be that it was better to use the quarterback less likely to screw up, the one who would not compromise a very good defense (LaVar Arrington, Brandon Short, et al.).
That worked out pretty well the first nine games of that '99 season, all of them Penn State victories. Then Minnesota hit a Hail Mary pass, followed by a last-second field goal, triggering a regular-season-ending three-game losing streak on the part of the Lions. They rebounded to win the Alamo Bowl behind Casey, who went the distance after Thompson suffered a shoulder injury in the days leading up to the game.
But which of the current QBs is less apt to err? Nobody knows; those five interceptions McGloin threw in the Outback Bowl against Florida must be taken into account, but Bolden had his aimless moments in 2010 as well.
And that is why they will almost certainly continue to alternate for the time being -- even against as formidable an opponent as No. 2 Alabama, which visits Beaver Stadium next Saturday.
“I think both of them are going to play,” Paterno said after Saturday's season-opening 41-7 victory over Indiana State. “I think both of them can play.”
“Both of them,” quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno added, “can do things to help us win.”
So onward we go. Jay Paterno allowed that there were “some similarities” between the current situation, and the one involving Casey and Thompson, though he doesn't remember the breakdown of playing time all that well.
And now, Jay said, “We're going to keep going week to week, and go from there. But we feel like we've got two guys that can play.”
Which, he added, is a necessity, given the difficulty of Penn State's schedule and the likelihood of injury.
Offensive coordinator Galen Hall, far from ascribing to the notion that if you have two QBs you really have none, also mentioned the injury issue.
“If you've got two quarterbacks, it's not a challenge; you're very fortunate,” he said. “One is going to get dinged (at some point in the season). …. I don't look at that (two-headed situation) as being a hindrance. It's a plus.”
But Joe Paterno has never been a two-quarterback guy. There's always been a starter and a reliever. It's just that it's tough to distinguish between Bolden and McGloin now, which is why they alternated quarters in Saturday's first half, and possessions in the third period.
McGloin went 6-for-8 for 77 yards, and led three touchdown drives. Bolden (who started) went 6-for-12 for 37 yards, and orchestrated one TD march. If there are asterisks, they would be the fact that McGloin hit a lot of shorter, safer stuff, while Bolden saw receivers drop two deep balls.
And both guys had lapses in judgment. McGloin nearly threw a ball right to an onrushing defensive lineman as he was being hauled down, while Bolden showed an unwillingness to slide or step out of bounds when he tucked it and ran, and absorbed some unnecessary punishment as a result.
“We've shown him some Michael Robinson tape,” Jay Paterno said. “That may have been a bad idea. Michael didn't slide too much.”
Bolden said he tried to slide on one of the plays in question, only to see a defender “get to (his) head a little bit.”
Bolden was also sacked twice, McGloin once. The pass-blocking will have to vastly improve if the Lions are to compete against Alabama; in fact, it could be argued that that should be this week's priority. (That, and the kicking game.)
But something will have to be done behind center at some point. Everybody understands that.
“This team needs one guy to go in, establish himself and get a rhythm,” Bolden said. “I'm not the one making that call.”
McGloin, for his part, said he is going to “take it one day at a time.”
“Whatever the coaches say, I'll agree with,” he said. “But I think my performance -- how I played today -- speaks for itself. I said I want to be in there, I want to get the job, especially next weekend for 'Bama, but like I said, take it one day at a time, whatever the coaches decide, I will go with.”
He was unbothered that Bolden started Saturday, since McGloin knew ahead of time that he would play the second quarter, and beyond.
“Guys were there saying, 'You'll get in there, you'll get your shot and just do what you do,' ” he said. “I'm glad I had a lot of support from the guys around me.”
Consider that an example of a candidate playing up his measurables, since McGloin has always been seen as the superior leader of the two.
Bolden, for his part, believes that he has improved as a leader, and that he has gotten better at reading defenses, too. Remember, he was the first freshman to start a season opener under Paterno last year, and he made eight starts in all.
The second of those was at Alabama, an ugly 24-3 loss. He said he has watched tape of that game “a ton,” that he really wants to get back out there against the Tide.
And it seems certain he will. But so too will McGloin. This race is still too close to call.