The preseason buzz just keeps on rolling in for the Nittany Lions. CFB 24/7 on NFL.com has revealed its preseason list of every quarterback situation for each FBS program in the country, and in at No. 12 is Christian Hackenberg and Penn State.
CFB 24/7’s Mike Huguenin wrote about Hackenberg’s impressive numbers last season (2,955 yards and 20 touchdowns), his backup Michael O’Connor, and whether Franklin and his staff will know how to properly utilize Hackenberg’s talents.
Hackenberg arrived last summer as a highly hyped true freshman and exited the season as the nation’s best true freshman quarterback. He started every game and threw for 2,955 yards and 20 TDs in coach Bill O’Brien’s offense. But O’Brien is gone now and has been replaced by James Franklin, who didn’t have a quarterback nearly as good as Hackenberg at Vanderbilt. There was no question about Hackenberg’s continued growth had O’Brien remained, but there has to be a slight one now: Does the new staff know how to handle him? Hackenberg (6-4, 234) is a prototype dropback passer with all the needed tools to be a superstar. O’Connor is a true freshman who enrolled early and went through spring drills.
His comments do raise some questions. Bill O’Brien, of course, was around some great QBs in his coaching career, including the likes of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Matt McGloin heavily credited O’Brien with his emergence in 2012. This will be James Franklin’s first college rodeo with a passer bursting with talent like Hackenberg. It’s not that Vanderbilt’s Jordan Rodgers (brother of the Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers) and Austyn Carta-Samuels weren’t any good, its just that Franklin has never had a potential top 10 pick under center before.
But unless James Franklin goes rogue and decides to run a triple-option this year, Hackenberg will continue to develop and produce big numbers. His wide receiving corps took losses with the departure of Allen Robinson and transfer of Richy Anderson, but tight ends Kyle Carter and Jesse James are poised for big years. Hack should be fine.
Huguenin also briefly touches on the backup QB situation in Happy Valley. That spot will be occupied by the true freshman and blue chip recruit O’Connor, who enrolled early in order to participate in spring drills. O’Connor takes the place of the departed Tyler Ferguson, who lost the competition for the starting gig last summer to Hackenberg and rarely saw the field after that. Ferguson transferred to Louisville in January after it became evident that there would be no significant playing time for him in the near future.
Like Hackenberg, O’Connor is a sturdily built pocket passer (6-foot-4, 226 pounds) who possesses a cannon of an arm. His freshman season will probably be used to study Hackenberg and learn the ropes of James Franklin’s offense. Barring any injuries, he will be donning a clipboard on the sidelines. All in all, this is one of the best QB situations Penn State has had in a long time, and makes all of us wish it was Aug. 30 already.