How He Got Here
Christian Hackenberg joined Adam Breneman as the cornerstones of the 2013 class that proved Penn State would not simply fade away into the post-sanctions era of Penn State football. Hackenberg was among the most-coveted quarterbacks in the nation, and not only did he commit to Penn State during its darkest hours, but also re-affirmed his commitment following the announcement of the NCAA sanctions that all but guaranteed a difficult path for him in Happy Valley.
Despite stepping on campus months ahead of the 2013 season, Hackenberg was quickly able to thrust himself into the starting role under center as a true freshman. While making the inevitable rookie mistakes, Hackenberg often resembled a poised upperclassman rather than an 18 year-old who just earned his high school diploma. Hackenberg showed immediate poise, often saving his best for the key moments that demanded clutch play from the budding star. He saved his best for last with an epic performance against the Wisconsin Badgers in the regular season finale, as the Nittany Lions entered the contest as a whopping 23.5 point underdog. His masterful performance against one of the top defenses in the nation had fans eagerly awaiting the jump he would take in 2014.
Hackenberg started the season with a brilliant performance against a heavily-experienced Central Florida defense in a week one victory, but soon would come crashing down once Pat Fitzgerald and Northwestern handed the B10 a blueprint on how to shut down the Penn State offense. While playing behind an extremely inexperienced offensive line, Hackenberg was never able to get into a rhythm. Each time he dropped back he was forced to watch for the incoming rush rather than identifying a receiver. His mechanics, once a major asset, soon disintegrated as he was constantly forced to throw the ball away as quickly as possible, if at all. The season did end on a positive note, however, as Hackenberg once again ended the season with another masterful performance as the Nittany Lions would go on to defeat Boston College in an overtime thriller.
What to Expect in 2015
All eyes will be on Hackenberg in 2015 as he currently stands at or near the top of the way-too-early 2016 NFL draft boards. Some view his 2014 struggles as the result of playing behind an overmatched offensive line and an inexperienced group of receivers, while others believe he has the physical tools to be a Combine wonder with little ability to actually back it up. For those who have paid close attention, however, there is little doubt as to Hackenberg’s ability when given time in the pocket. When Hackenberg has ample protection, there are few, if any, college quarterbacks with his ability. Hackenberg is a master of setting his feet, scanning the field, and then throwing lasers that oftentimes hit the receiver right between the numbers. He’s a special player who can make the type of throws that even a handful of NFL starters are not capable of.
Hackenberg will benefit by a diverse, more experienced group of pass-catchers who should have a better sense of timing with their quarterback as well as the know-how to get separation from defenders- something that added to the offenses’ woes in 2014. However, it will all come down to the play of the offensive line that will ultimately dictate Hackenberg’s production in 2015. The unit should benefit from a year of much, much needed experience under the belts, as well as the luxury of an offseason with no upheaval to continue to learn and gel- as well as several months in the weight room.
With a little help from his friends, the sky is the limit for Hackenberg. If the line shows little improvement from a disastrous 2014 campaign, it will be another season of "what could have been."
How the Top 10 Players Were Selected
For those of you curious, the top ten players were selected by a staff vote. Each staff member ranked the top 10 players, with a number one vote counting as 10 points, a number two vote counting for nine points, and so on. A full list of the rankings, including those who received votes but were not included in the top 10, will be published with the reveal of Penn State’s top player on Friday, Sept. 4.
The Rest of the Top Ten to Date