Before delving into the piece, I’d like it be known that is more of an open-ended piece for you, the reader. This piece, isn’t about my view about where Trace McSorley stands among Penn Sate’s best quarterbacks and players of all-time. This simply discusses McSorley’s career at Penn State so far and in the future, other notable great quarterbacks in the program's history, and his overall legacy.
When Christian Hackenberg went down with a shoulder injury in the 2015 TaxSlayer Bowl against Georgia, Penn State fans and the college football world got a glimpse of a small six-foot quarterback from Virginia named Trace McSorley.
When McSorley entered the game against the Bulldogs, the Nittany Lions offense was struggling and the team was down 17-3 after halftime and 24-3 after three quarters of play. But in the fourth quarter, Penn State showed life and it was being lead by McSorley.
McSorley in that fourth quarter threw for two touchdowns passes to pull the Nittany Lions within a touchdown and a shot to tie the game in the final second.
While they ultimately came up short in tying the game, McSorley showed his signature moxie, resilience, and play making ability that has made him one of the most prolific quarterbacks in program history.
But where does the redshirt senior quarterback actually stand in Penn State’s long history among his quarterback counterparts and where could he stand by the end of next season?
When thinking about all-time Penn State quarterbacks, a few names will come up immediately. Those names include Todd Blackledge, Kerry Collin, Daryll Clark and Michael Robinson. Combined, those four quarterbacks have lead Penn State to some of the best seasons in Penn State history including one National Championship, a perfect season, an 8-1 record in bowl games, and an 84-12 overall record.
It’s safe to say that these four quarterbacks have been the cream of the crop at Penn State and are among the best football players to ever grace Beaver Stadium.
Before delving into McSorley’s achievement as Penn State’s starting quarterback, let’s take a look at each of the other four’s career achievement at Penn State (in chronological order).
Todd Blackledge (1979-82):
The biggest accomplishment to Blackledge’s name being only one of two quarterbacks in Penn State history to win a National Championship. The three-year starter was the Lions signal caller from 1980 to 1982 and racked up a career record of 31-4.
Blackledge lead the Nittany Lions to three straight top-ten finishes, three major bowl game wins, and of course the National Championship in 1982. He also become the first Penn State quarterback to ever win the Davey O’Brien award for his 1982 season that saw him pass for 2,218-yards, 22-touchdowns and 14-interceptions. He would be a top-ten pick in the 1983 NFL Draft but is best known now for his work as a color analyst for ESPN.
Kerry Collins (1991-94):
In his two seasons as the Nittany Lions primary starting quarterback, Collins helped lead the Nittany Lions to a 22-2 record including a perfect season in 1994. For the program, it couldn’t have been better timing as the Lions joined the Big Ten in 1993 and the dominance in their first two seasons showed that Penn State could play in a conference with the big dogs such as Ohio State, Michigan, and Wisconsin.
Collins in 1994 would light it up, throwing for 2,679-yards, 21 touchdowns, and just seven interceptions. At the time, especially for Penn State, those were considered elite passing numbers. Collins also won the Maxwell Award and was a Consensus All-American for his performance in 1994 and would go onto be the fifth overall pick in the 1995 NFL Draft.
Collins had a rather strong and length NFL career which included two Pro-Bowl appearances before retiring after the 2011 season.
Michael Robinson (2002-2005):
For those who don’t remember, Robinson didn’t start his career at Penn State as a quarterback. A Virginia native like McSorley, Robinson moved around the Lions offense over his first few years in Happy Valley before becoming the starting quarterback in 2005.
For being the starting quarterback for just one full season, that’s all you have to know about how great Robinson was in that single season. In that lone season, Robinson helped lead a resurgence of Penn State after year of failure in the early 2000s.
Robinson would lead Penn State to an 11-1 record and if it wasn’t for Chad Henne and Mario Manningham, the Lions most likely would have been playing for a National Championship in 2005. That being said, Robinson had 28 total touchdowns that season including 17 touchdown passes. Robinson would go onto to be a fourth round pick in the 2006 NFL Draft and was a Pro-Bowl full back for the Seattle Seahawks. He’s now an analyst for the NFL Network.
Daryll Clark (2005-2009):
Clark became the starting quarterback for Penn State in 2008 and would hold throughout the 2008 and 2009 seasons. In his two seasons as Penn State’s starting quarterback, Clark lead the Lions to a level of success in back-to-back years that was only last seen in Kerry Collin’s two seasons as the starting quarterback.
Under Clark’s guidance, the Lions went 22-4 including a 1-1 record in bowl games with a loss to USC and a win over LSU. By the end of his career, Clark had totaled 5,742-yards, 43 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions. He currently plays for the Cape Fear Heroes of the American Arena League.
Now that you have a quick rundown of these four Penn State greats’ own resumes, here’s a look at McSorley’s own resume.
McSorley’s resume entering his final season with the program is impressive it’s safe to say. In his first 27-games as starting quarterback, McSorley has lead the program to a 22-5 record, a Big Ten Championship, back-to-back New Year’s Six bowl games, and at least one win over every Big Ten team.
Combine that with McSorley’s stats and it’s easy to see how the undersized quarterback that barely any programs wanted as a quarterback is now among the top five, if not top three of Penn State quarterbacks entering his senior season.
Stats wise, McSorley has completed 63.5% of his passes for 7,369-yards, 59 touchdowns, and 18 interceptions. He holds the following all-time program records and could hold more after his senior season;
- Career Passing Touchdowns: 59
- Career Total Touchdowns: 77
- Career Total Yards: 8,268
- Single-Season Passing Touchdowns: 29
- Single-Season Total Touchdowns: 39
- Single-Season Passing Yards: 3,614
- Single-Season Total Yards: 4,061
For McSorley, there is still plenty to accomplish in has last season with the program. With a healthy season, McSorley could break the all-time passing yards record and the all-time career wins record by a Penn State quarterback.
Left to Accomplish:
As mentioned above, there is still plenty that the Penn State quarterback could accomplish in his final season. For starters’ It’s conceivable that McSorley with a full season could break the career marks for 11,000 passing yards mark, 90 passing touchdowns, and 120 total career touchdowns. It would be records that would be nearly unbreakable.
For those interested, McSorley to accomplish such stats he would need to throw for 3,631-yards, 31 passing touchdowns and 12 rushing touchdowns. If McSorley puts up such numbers or even higher, McSorley will be in the thick of the Heisman discussion.
Of course to be in the Heisman discussion, McSorley will need to help lead Penn State to another great season with 10+ wins and most likely a Big Ten Championship in all reality.
Another 10-win season McSorley would make him the program’s all-time leader in wins as a starting quarterback with 32. Another 10-win season would also put McSorley and the 2016--2018 Nittany Lions in elite company.
If the Nittany Loins do accomplish ten wins once again in 2018, it will be just the third time the program has won 10 or more games in three straight seasons joining the teams from 1971 to 1974 and 1980 to 1982. Such a feat would not only put him in elite Penn State company but elite Big Ten company as well.
Of course, McSorley would hope and love to accomplish all the above and more including winning the Heisman Trophy and a National Championship. But even without a Heisman Trophy or a National Championship, McSorley’s legacy at Penn State may be one of the strongest that the university has ever seen.
In the famous words of Alexander Hamilton via Lin-Manuel Miranda, “What is a legacy? A legacy is planting seeds in a garden that you never get to see.”
In most cases, I would agree with this idea of what a legacy is but for McSorley, we are able to see his legacy at Penn State as it takes place, which in itself is a special occurrence
When it’s all said and done and in 10 or 20-years when people take a look back at Penn State football, McSorley along with players like Saquon Barkley, Christian Hackenberg, Marcus Allen, and many more will be remembered for returning Penn State to glory.
Without McSorley, Penn State simply does not accomplish what they have the past two seasons. A small, scrappy quarterback from Virginia over the past two years has left his heart and soul out on the field for the Blue and White and has never been worried about personal glory.
Now, as we sit less than four months away from the opening of the 2018 regular season, McSorley gets ready for the third and final act of his collegiate career and it could be perhaps his best. Could McSorley potentially end his career with a Heisman Trophy? A second Big Ten championship? A National Championship? All these are lofty goals but if there is a player that can check them all off, it’s Trace McSorley. So do yourself a favor, like you did with Saquon Barkley, take a step back this upcoming season, and enjoy what the Nittany Lions have in McSorley because no matter where he ends up in the greatest of all-time discussions for Penn State, everyone will agree that he is one of the best to ever suit up and wear the blue and white.
In conclusion, McSorley’s place in Penn State history at this point is up for discussion. Is he a top five quarterback in Penn State history right now or is he already the greatest? If he’s not the greatest in Penn State history, what does he have to accomplish to become the greatest?
These are all questions that will be answered within the next seven to eight months but for now all we can do is debate. So, let the fun and games begin, where do you put McSorley among quarterbacks in the program’s history? Among the program’s best players? You tell us.