Christian Hackenberg's tenure at Penn State can be discribed in many ways. From program saviour to complete disappointment, Hackenberg has been one of the most talked about players of the post-Paterno era.
Hackenberg's season did not get off to the best start, but as the season progressed, he was able to find groove and become just what the team needed. The emergence of a run game allowed Hackenberg to ease up on the need to be the end-all-be-all for Penn State's offense, which resulted in cutting his interceptions in half over the course of 2014. And when the running game wasn't there, Hackenberg was still able to take over and will the team to victory.
Against San Diego State, where both Saquon Barkley and Akeel Lynch where sidelined with injury, he had one of his best games of the season. He went 21/35 for 3 touchdowns and zero interceptions. His 60% completion precentage in that game was one of his highest on the year. And, against a team that refused to go away, this performance proved to be the difference-maker.
Maryland had watched enough film to know that if they had any chance at beating Penn State last season, they had to stop the run. That's exactly what they did. Penn State responded by allowing Hackenberg to sling the ball all over the field, and the strategy once again paid off. Hackenberg had an anomaly of a game, going 13-29, which only amounts for 44% completion, but he still had three touchdowns and zero interceptions. If not for Hackenberg's ability to put the ball where it needed to be, Penn State likely would have lost that game.
Hackenberg followed the game against Maryland with his best performance of the season, going 21-29 (72%) for two touchdowns passing, one rushing, and one receiving, against Illinois. This is the game where Hackenberg did it all. He evaded pressure, put the ball where it needed to be, took off running when he needed to and avoided any interceptions while at it.
Hackenberg may not have accomplished everything he set out to do in 2015, but he was still the glue that kept the offense together. Whether it was his ability to take over a game when needed, the presence of mind to lean on his run game when the offense required it or simply his ability to stand in the pocket, take a hit, and get right back up time after time, Hackenberg did just enough to keep this team from having what very well could have been a losing season. And that's why he's Number Five.