Barton Simmons, Director of Scouting for 247Sports, thinks only Ohio State, Alabama, and Oklahoma boast better quarterback rooms than Penn State heading into the 2017 season.
— 247Sports (@247Sports) August 7, 2017
“Regardless of your opinion of Trace McSorley’s NFL potential, there’s no arguing what the kid is capable of on the college level. He’s capable of winning the Heisman. He’s capable of winning the national championship,” Simmons said. “The Nittany Lions’ national title chances may dim with a McSorley injury, but they’d still be capable of winning every game on their schedule with Tommy Stevens at the helm.”
That’s high praise for a duo that entered last season with minimal experience and a new offensive coordinator in Joe Moorhead. McSorley nearly pulled off a miraculous comeback against Georgia in the 2016 TaxSlayer Bowl in his first major action after Christian Hackenberg suffered a shoulder injury before declaring for the NFL draft.
While the Ashburn, Va., native certainly went through some growing pains here and there to open his first full season as the starter last fall, McSorley couldn’t have been more clutch during Penn State’s nine-game winning streak. Moorhead opened the playbook in the second half versus Minnesota, allowing McSorley to use his feet more often to make things happen.
Of course, McSorley would go on to set the school’s single-season record for total offense with 3,979 yards and 36 touchdowns (seven rushing).
Sam Darnold and USC check in at No. 7 on Simmons’ list largely due to backup Matt Fink’s inexperience. Penn State’s Sept. 9 opponent, Pitt, wrapped up the tier system at No. 44 with the caption “Get Back to Me in October.” Outside of the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions, Northwestern (No. 15), Nebraska (No. 27), and Michigan (No. 41) are the only other Big Ten teams to make the cut.
Ohio State has four signal callers on its roster who could start at any number of Power Five programs: Heisman contender J.T. Barrett, backups Dwayne Haskins and Joe Burrow, and true freshman Tate Martell, who led Las Vegas juggernaut Bishop Gorman to a perfect 45-0 record in three years as the starter.
Alabama sophomore Jalen Hurts is the reigning SEC Offensive Player of the Year, while spring enrollee Tua Tagovailoa — a five-star talent from Hawaii — is every bit as good, if not better. Baker Mayfield, another Heisman hopeful, is back to lead the Sooners on one last title run, but former Texas A&M transfer Kyler Murray also has what it takes to run the show in Norman.
Behind McSorley and Stevens, James Franklin mentioned the competition between redshirt freshman Jake Zembiec and summer arrival Sean Clifford for the No. 3 job has been a main focus of preseason camp at media day. Penn State has to feel really good about its chances in the loaded Big Ten East with McSorley ready to take another step forward as a junior.