May 4, 2013 9:42:29 AM
STARKVILLE - According to former Penn State University quarterback Steven Bench, there's "mutual interest" in the possibility he'll transfer to Mississippi State University.
Bench, who just announced last week he would be transferring from Penn State, confirmed in a Friday night phone interview with The Dispatch MSU Sports Blog that he would consider the national reports that MSU is a possible destination "very accurate". NCAA rules restrict the MSU coaches from publicly commenting on the recruiting of a player not yet on their roster. According to a ESPN.com report, Bench is considering both South Florida and Mississippi State. Mississippi State's 247Sports.com reporter Paul Jones has been also reporting all week on Bench's interest with the Bulldogs program.
"I want to feel comfortable at my new school and academics will play a part into it, atmosphere will play a part in the decision because obviously I got got to live for the next three or four years," Bench said. "I want to feel at home and I want to have fun and I want to get a good education."
While Bench declined to comment on specific interaction with the coaching staff or if he's been offered a scholarship yet by MSU, he did say he'll have a "better understanding next weekend of my decision and what steps I need to take from then on".
South Florida, who is coming off a 3-9 season, and is expected to allow Bench to compete with third-year sophomore Matt Floyd for the starting quarterback position in fall camp for the 2013 season.
"I'm not against being away from home even though with the reports out there that I'm deciding between schools closer than say, Penn State from where I am in Georgia," Bench said. "At this point I want everyone to know I'm open to any school and any situation. That's sounds like a cliché but it's the truth."
The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Bench appeared in two games for the Nittany Lions last season, completing 2 of 8 passes for 12 yards. The Cairo, Ga., native was a three-star recruit out of high school and under the NCAA sanctions to Penn State is able to play immediately with three years of eligibility remaining. Bench said he decided to leave Penn State because he was under the impressive junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson and incoming freshman recruit Christian Hackenberg would be the two players competing for the starting quarterback role in fall camp. Ferguson and Bench split first-team reps in spring practices that just wrapped up in State College, Pa., last month.
"I want a shot to compete for playing time wherever I go to school next," Bench said. "I want a fair opportunity to earn playing time. If we were to take the academics out of the equation and talk about on the field, I'm going to my new school to play football. Not watch football being played."
Bench did confirm he is headed to San Diego Sunday to work with nationally prestigious quarterback coach George Whitfield at his academy for the entire week. Whitfield has become highly respected for training quarterbacks in the offseason to prepare them for the NFL Draft. This spring Whitfield, a a former college and arena league quarterback, trained draft picks Landry Jones and Matt Scott but before that trained the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft each of the last two years (Andrew Luck and Cam Newton). He also works with current college players in the offseason including 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, Ohio State's Braxton Miller and Clemson's Tajh Boyd.
"When I fly back home next weekend from San Diego, I'll have a much better understanding of what the next step will be in my decision and then I'll start to see if I can schedule some campus visits with the schools I want to seriously consider," Bench said. "Right now, that's where I'm at mentally."
The interesting aspect of the prospect of Bench possibly coming to MSU is he mentioned unprompted that he had a redshirt year open to him that he'd be willing to take in order to learn the playbook and develop chemistry with his new teammates. Bench said fifth-year senior quarterback Tyler Russell being the projected starter at the position for the 2013 season wouldn't affect his decision much as a negative against MSU when he finally decided on a new school.
If Bench were to arrive at MSU, it would give the Bulldogs the possibility of five scholarships on the roster (Russell, redshirt sophomore Dak Prescott, Bench and the two freshman signees in Cord Sandberg and Damian Williams). With Sandberg's stock in the upcoming MLB Draft in June continuing to rise, Bench would provide future stability to the position as a competition for Prescott for that backup spot in 2013 and starting role after Russell graduates. After Prescott's surgery to correct an issue the his big toe of his left foot, MSU coach Dan Mullen and his staff were left with just Russell this spring as the only healthy scholarship quarterback.
"I perfectly understand that if it were to be Mississippi State, not saying that it will be or they're leading in this thing but whatever, Tyler Russell is the starter," Bench said. "If I end up at MSU, I want a chance at some point to go in and compete for a starting job. If that's at MSU and then Tyler Russell is the starter then maybe that next spring, I would get a fair shot to start from then on. I will remind everybody I have a redshirt year to use and I'm willing to do that too if I need to in order to get myself ready to be the starting quarterback for the following three years."
All of the Dispatch MSU Sports Blog readers: feel free to follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/matthewcstevens for up-to-date Mississippi State coverage.
2. 'OzLand' to premiere locally Thursday ENTERTAINMENT