Is Trace McSorley a Better 2018 Heisman Candidate Than Saquon Barkley Was in 2017?

By Matt de Bear on January 8, 2018 at 10:00 am
Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley

Adriana Lacy - Roar Lions Roar

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Let's get one thing clear right up front. This is not an article about Trace McSorley being a better player than Saquon Barkley. That is a patently absurd argument. Barkley is arguably the greatest player in the Nittany Lions' tradition filled history. That certainly is not to take anything away from McSorley, who will hold every passing school record you can think of by the time he leaves Happy Valley.

No, this is an article about who is better suited to claim the Heisman Trophy. Since 2000, 15 of the 18 winners have been quarterbacks. The three running backs (Reggie Bush, Mark Ingram, Derrick Henry) have benefited from either insanely productive seasons (Bush), or years in which the vote was heavily split with no clear favorite (Ingram, Henry). The award, for all intents and purposes, has one slanted towards quarterbacks. Enter McSorley.

Over his first two seasons as the Nittany Lions' starting quarterback, McSorley has put up 7,369 yards and 58 touchdowns through the air, while accounting for another 856 yards and 18 scores on the ground. Some quick math shows that's over 4,000 all-purpose yards and 38 touchdowns per season. He clearly has the numbers that many voters look for when casting their ballots.

Perhaps more importantly, it is much more difficult to take a great quarterback out of the game. We saw many times throughout the 2017 season that teams sold out to keep Saquon Barkley from beating them. That's much easier said than done with a dual-threat signal caller like McSorley. Seven man zones lead to big running lanes, and blitzes leave skilled receivers running free. McSorley has proven he can beat either over the last two years.

You do not need to force things with a quarterback either. He touches the ball every play, and in an offense like Penn State's is making a key read on every snap, run or pass. At times in 2017, you could argue that too much focus was placed on Barkley. That's not a criticism, so much as an observation. Of course you want a guy like him to touch the ball as much as you can, but when teams are devoting entire defensive schemes to taking him away, something has to give. 

The departures of Barkley, along with Mike Gesicki and DaeSean Hamilton will certainly play a part in whatever candidacy McSorley mounts this fall. The former not only was very productive in his own right, but his presence in the backfield undoubtedly opened things up for the passing game. The latter two proved over their Penn State careers they very reliable, if not elite pass catchers. All told, those three players accounted for over 54 percent of Penn State's receptions in 2017. Perhaps the biggest factor in any Heisman campaign for McSorley will be Juwan Johnson taking the next step, along with players like DeAndre Thompkins, Justin Shorter, Jonathan Holland and others. 

With Barkley, Baker Mayfield, Lamar Jackson already off to the NFL, and Stanford running back Bryce Love possibly joining them, the top four 2017 Heisman candidates could be be off of the board in 2018. The field figures to be wide open. Penn State will once again enter the season with a favorite, and this one just might be a better fit to end the Nittany Lions' Heisman drought.

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