As you know, O’Brien was benched in the second quarter of Maryland’s loss to Georgia Tech on Oct. 8. The sophomore has not seen the field since and will not start Saturday’s game at Florida State. There is no question that sophomore C.J. Brown, who will start his second career game against the Seminoles, has given the offense a much-needed offensive spark, largely because of his mobility and speed. But where does this leave O’Brien, the third-year sophomore who is expected to graduate this spring? The short answer: He will have plenty of options because he is expected to graduate this spring.
O’Brien has not been made available to speak to reporters since the Tuesday before the Georgia Tech game. Maryland denied my request this week to speak to O’Brien. When asked if O’Brien could play at some point the rest of this season, Coach Randy Edsall said Tuesday, “Everybody always has to be ready to go because, if you are a backup, you are one play away from going in.” Meantime, FSU Coach Jimbo Fisher this week said Brown’s play has given Maryland “some pep and life” while also praising O’Brien as a good quarterback.
Coming into this season, O’Brien was the reigning league rookie of the year and was lauded as one of the nation’s top young quarterbacks. Now he is a backup whose return to the field for games remains uncertain. It is always possible that O’Brien, who for whatever reason has not performed as well as he did last season, could win back the job this season or at least get ample playing time the rest of the way because his skill set complements that of Brown. It’s also possible that he does not play again this season.
As you may remember, I visited O’Brien’s home town of Kernersville, N.C., twice this August for a long story the source of O’Brien’s confidence, ambition and focus on and off the field. So I can tell you that he has loved — loved — his time at Maryland, making great friends and enjoying the university and the opportunity-rich Baltimore/Washington area. I can also tell you that, just as he was hellbent on playing top-level college football, he very much wants to play in the NFL.
After this season, O’Brien will have two years of eligibility remaining at Maryland. If the current depth chart remains the same the rest of this season, O’Brien can try to win the starting job back in spring practice and beyond.
If he chooses the traditional transfer route to another FBS program, he would lose a year of eligibility because he has already redshirted. That would leave O’Brien with one year, 2013, to play in games.
But keep in mind one thing: the NCAA’s graduate transfer exception rule. Let’s simply call it the Russell Wilson rule. Because Wilson earned a bachelor’s degree from North Carolina State, he was able to take advantage of the NCAA rule that allows graduates to eliminate the sit-out year. In order to do so, you must graduate with eligibility still remaining and enroll in another school’s graduate program that is not offered at your former school. Then you can play right away. That’s how Wilson went from playing at N.C. State in 2010 to playing at Wisconsin at 2011 without sitting out a season.
O’Brien, a very good student, is expected to graduate from Maryland this spring. If he so chooses, that accomplishment would give him the chance to play at another FBS school next season.