The last time Penn State took the field nearly three months ago, Christian Hackenberg was still wearing the Blue and White, and starting quarterback was the furthest thing from most Nittany Lions' fans minds. Now, with the Blue-White Game approaching in less than a month, and Hack having just wrapped up quite the pro day, the battle to start under center for the Nittany Lions in 2016 has taken center stage.
Trace McSorley, he of the two touchdown pass, near comeback versus Georgia in the TaxSlayer Bowl, is joined by redshirt freshman Tommy Stevens and true freshman Jake Zembiec to get the starting nod against Kent State on September 3rd. McSorley is entering his third year in the program, is viewed by many of his teammates as one of the offensive leaders, and should be the one taking that first snap versus the Golden Flashes in the fall.
Sure, new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead is installing a new offense, and with all three quarterbacks on campus to start the winter semester, it would stand to reason all three are on the same footing learning the new system Moorhead is implementing. But there is only one with real, on field experience, not to mention the experience off the field, in meeting rooms, on the practice field, and all of the other intangibles that go along with starting at QB for Penn State. That player is Trace McSorley.
Even if his only true on field experience came in relief of Hackenberg in the TaxSlayer Bowl, the extra time in the program, and around his teammates and coaches matters. He knows the personalities, and perhaps just as importantly, they know his. This fall will be his third camp with Penn State, and he knows how things work, even if the guy calling the shots in the quarterback meeting room is a different boss. More than any other position on the field, quarterback lends itself to that level of experience off the field.
It all comes down to results though, and after a slow start against Georgia, the performance in January nearly brought a moribund offense all the way back against the Bulldogs. It might be easy to focus on a slow start and early struggles after McSorley entered the game, but I would counter with the circumstances surrounding that. It goes without saying that Hackenberg and McSorley are vastly different quarterbacks, and acting offensive coordinator Rickey Rahne had installed a game plan that revolved around the former. When the latter entered due to injury, it is no surprise that the transition hit more than a few bumps.
Once the redshirt freshman settled into his first true action, the results do most of the talking. Two fourth quarter touchdowns, on throws that were put in the perfect spot for his receivers to make the play. Sure, the game-tying drive fell short, but there were plenty of clutch plays made on the drive to keep the Lions' faint hopes alive.
Franklin, Moorhead, and the rest of the coaching staff have three very talented options to pick from when the time comes sometime this spring, summer, or fall. Whoever takes that first snap against the Golden Flashes will have plenty of help in his backfield and at receiver. But the best option is the guy with the most time in the program.