Hard to believe that Christian Hackenberg is heading into his third year at the helm of the Penn State offense. But, here he stands a year older, and by all accounts, a ton wiser. And yet, Hack still hasn't reached his 21st birthday (which coincidentally falls on Valentine's Day, go figure). Without further ado....
A SEASON TO FORGET? OR WAS IT...
We all painfully know the background of Hack's not-so-pretty sophomore campaign. What began in Ireland with a lights out performance in the Croke Park Classic, quickly went sour once the Big Ten season began in New Jersey. Although Penn State was able to squeeze out a victory, thanks to a little "Hack Magic" at the end, the blueprint was written that night at Rutgers.
The result was a season-record 44 sacks allowed. A dismal 12 to 15 touchdown to interception ratio. And a few highlighted moments of lost composure and finger pointing. In short, a season to forget.
That is, until December 27th rolled around and the Pinstripe Bowl victory, Penn State's first bowl win since the 2009 season. Hack exploded for 370 yards, 4 TD's, and most importantly, ZERO interceptions.
Heading into the offseason, he left 2014 behind on a high note. Despite the low numbers and perceived sophomore slump, Hack enters his junior year regarded as one of the Top QB's in the land. As well as a potential 1st round NFL draft pick next April, if he decides to forego his senior year.
Entering this season, Christian Hackenberg has been placed on just about every preseason "watch list" imaginable. The Maxwell Award, Davey O'Brien Award, The Manning Award, and the Heisman Trophy, just to name a few of the big ones. Conventional wisdom suggests that last season's struggle will turn into this season's gains.
The old adage, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger" comes to mind when we look ahead to the upcoming year. Above all else, despite all the hits and punishment that he took, Christian Hackenberg never missed a single play in 2014. Not one. That alone, is worth its weight in gold.
It's hard to imagine a Penn State offense without Hack at the helm, but, in case of disaster, we do have a couple of options.
First and foremost, we should all get acquainted with the name Trace McSorely. The Ashburn, Virginia native, by way of Briar Hills High School, spent his freshman year as the No.2 QB on the depth chart. Thanks to Hack's fortitude, McSorley never saw the field in 2014 and was able to use a redshirt while gaining valuable experience learning the ropes.
Although a bit on the small side at just over 6ft., Trace brings with him the reputation of a winner. He led his Briar Hills team to 3 Virginia State Championships out of 4 years as the starter. One of James Franklin's first commits after his hire last January, McSorley is known more as a duel threat quarterback, but has shown a good zip on the ball and accuracy as well. With an early schedule that includes the potential for some blowouts, we should all get our first taste of what Trace McSorley brings to the table early on in 2015.
Joining McSorley on the depth chart, is true freshman, out of Indiana, Tommy Stevens. Stevens was a 3-star recruit coming out of Indianapolis. He joined the team in February as an early enrollee and quickly established himself as the No. 3 option. Due to a minor injury to McSorley in April, Stevens was pressed into duty throughout the Blue and White game this spring. All things considered, he performed well, given his lack of time on campus. Ideally, Stevens will be able to take the year to soak it all in, much like McSorley did in 2014.
All signs point to Christian Hackenberg reestablishing himself as one of the nation’s premier signal callers in 2015. Last year's struggles on offense should be remedied, at least to a degree. The O-Line is primed to bounce back, the running game should be able to gain more yards, and the young receivers have had the entire year to work on their craft. All of which should benefit the play of the quarterback.
In July of 2012, only a few days after the sanctions were handed down, Christian Hackenberg, along with a few other of his fellow commits, had a closed door meeting with then-coach Bill O'Brien. They emerged from that meeting with a renewed commitment to the Nittany Lions that day and have played a major role in the vitality of Penn State Football over the past 3 years.
As the door closed on a disappointing sophomore campaign in 2014, the rumors swirled that a possible transfer was on the horizon. The thought being that Hack was too good of a quarterback to endure another season like the one he just suffered through. Of course, that stayed right where it began, in the rumor mill.
Once again, his commitment to Penn State never wavered. His mission to lead Penn State through its darkest hour never left its course. Most say this could be his last year in Happy Valley. If that truly is the case, sit back and enjoy as he embarks upon what I predict will be his finest in Blue and White.