For college football players, the summer period is when they're left to their own devices, with no coaches around to critique or guide them.
It also could be when the Penn State quarterback race is decided.
Penn State coach Bill O'Brien, in Pittsburgh Thursday for the annual Penn State coaches caravan, said he expects to name a starter, either junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson or freshman Christian Hackenberg, about two weeks into fall training camp.
The work both do in the summer, though, could play a huge role.
"Hopefully you've taught them enough during the spring and during the wintertime that they know what they can do on their own to improve," O'Brien said. "Whether it's watching film, studying the playbook, 7-on-7s, 1-on-1 throwing routes with receivers, things like that. These guys will work at it."
O'Brien said Ferguson will have a slight edge heading into August simply because he was at Penn State for spring practices, but noted it would definitely be an open competition.
The coach also pointed to former starter Matt McGloin -- who began his career as a walk-on -- as a player who made significant strides last summer to take on the starting job last fall.
"Now he was an older guy, and Tyler and Christian are obviously younger guys, but Matt made a lot of strides," O'Brien said. "I think you can make a lot of strides in the summer on your own, so we'll see how they do with that."
PSU vs. Pitt every year?
O'Brien may continue to make these annual appearances in Pittsburgh on the coaches caravan, but he won't be returning as a coach until potentially 2016, when the Pitt-Penn State series is set to resume.
It's a few years away, but O'Brien said he is already looking forward to coaching against Pitt coach Paul Chryst, who he said he has become friendly with in the past year.
The series is scheduled for four games -- two at Heinz Field and two at Beaver Stadium -- from 2016 through 2019, but O'Brien said he would be in favor of extending it beyond that.
"I think we should play it every year," he said. "Just my opinion. I'm not sure what my bosses think on that."
Ireland opener up in the air
When asked if Penn State was any closer to finalizing a potential 2014 season opener in Ireland, O'Brien said the Nittany Lions are "working on it."
Reports surfaced in February Penn State was discussing opening the 2014 season against Central Florida in Dublin. While there are still plenty of moving parts in play, O'Brien said he hoped it came to fruition.
"We're working on it," he said. "We really are. ... I think it'd be great for college football, it'd be great for Penn State, for the Penn State fans."
Nittany Lions hockey
Penn State hockey coach Guy Gadowsky also was in town for the coaches caravan. The Nittany Lions will begin their first year of Big Ten play next season after playing this year as a Division I independent.
The Big Ten released its inaugural schedule Wednesday. In its 20-game slate, Penn State will play its first Big Ten game Dec. 6 at Wisconsin, and open up its conference home schedule Jan. 12 against Minnesota.
The Nittany Lions went 3-2 against Big Ten teams this season, but Gadowsky expects the day-in, day-out grind of a conference schedule to be a challenge.
"It's a very good conference with no room to breath," he said. "I think that's going to be a different factor for us.
"You're going to be facing a powerhouse every weekend."
Sam Werner: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SWernerPG First Published May 10, 2013 4:00 AM