Penn State football is coming off a season that many might argue was a bit of a disappointment. On one hand, the Nittany Lions went 11-2, with big wins against conference rivals Iowa and Michigan. A win over the Washington Huskies in the Fiesta Bowl was also a nice achievement to end the year. But on the other side you have the best player in the country in Saquon Barkley, top tight end Mike Gesicki, and an experienced QB with Trace McSorley; this team was supposed to contend for the National Championship.
The two losses suffered on the season came on the road against Ohio State and Michigan State by a combined 4 points. A cleaner play here, a better call there, and you might have an undefeated Penn State team with a chance to show what they can do in the College Football Playoff. But this wasn’t the case, and the harsh reality of being in the Big Ten East reared it’s ugly head. One team (Ohio State) came out of that side of the conference, leaving Penn State on the outside looking in. Now both Barkley and Gesicki are gone leaving Trace McSorley to man the ship.
McSorley had a solid junior season. He threw for 3,570 yards, 28 touchdowns to only 10 interceptions, and completing 66.5% of his passes. He also rushed for 660 yards on the ground, adding 11 touchdowns, making him a solid dual threat quarterback at the college level. His 77 total career touchdowns are the most by any player in school history. But this was with NFL-level talent around him. McSorley will have to show a lot of poise this season in late-game situations where he relied on help from his star teammates last year.
He will have some of his supporting cast from last season. Tommy Stevens will be the backup quarterback again this year, although not in a traditional role. Stevens appeared in nine games while racking up 208 yards and four touchdowns in his own right, mainly providing as a decoy for certain offensive sets, as well as a runner in various short yardage situations. Miles Sanders appeared in 12 games last season and rushed for 203 yards in back up of Saquon Barkley. Juwan Johnson and DeAndre Thompkins are two big names in the wide receiver position to watch again this season. Both were very effective for McSorley as targets last season, 701 and 443 yards receiving respectively. Johnson is part of arguably the biggest highlight from last season: a touchdown catch in the back of the end zone from McSorley as time expired to beat Iowa on the road.
McSorley will be a player on the Heisman watch this season on a team that should begin the year in the top ten rankings. He’s been listed as the top QB in the Big Ten by many of the football experts around the country. The scheduling gods have also shown favor this coming year by having the Buckeyes and Spartans come to Happy Valley this time around. McSorley will have his chances to shine and show his leadership qualities. He will have to clean up some of the big game mistakes he made in panic situations during last season if he wants to lead this team to an improbable run at a Big Ten title and the College Football Playoff.