By: Thomas Frank Carr
This is the kind of question that sparks sports bar debates and clogs radio airwaves on slow news days.
Is LeBron better than Jordan? Would you rather have Joe Montana or Tom Brady?
Where does Saquon Barkley rank among Penn State running backs?
We spent quite a bit of time and energy on that last question and Barkley’s assault of the record books last year. Now that he’s gone on to fame and fortune in the NFL, it’s time to shift focus to another Penn Stater who has not quite quietly carved his name somewhere in the halls of the Penn State greats.
That player is Trace McSorley.
McSorley has been the heartbeat of the Penn State offense for the past two year. I mean that in the sense that he’s been overlooked for the majority of his career. Generally that comparison means that player is at the center of attention and importance. Yet in reality we spend the majority of our lives obsessed with every other part of our body.
Skin, eyes, hair…other organs….all take priority. How often do you even notice your heartbeat?
Even now, one of the biggest questions about the 2018 offseason is about his backup, Tommy Stevens. While Stevens has shown potential and talent, he has not taken a meaningful snap as the quarterback of the Penn State Nittany Lions because Trace McSorley has been in his way. It’s a worthy question, to ask if Tommy Stevens will transfer. It simply focuses largely on 2019 because McSorley is a given at this point.
By The Numbers
In just two years, McSorley already owns 13 Penn State quarterback records. This past year he had eight games in which he threw for and rushed for a touchdown. By the end of September 2018 he will likely be the all-time leader in passing yards in Penn State history. If his senior season is anything like his previous two, McSorley will end his career as the first 10,000 yard passer in school history and 100 total touchdowns.
So where does Trace McSorley rank in the pantheon of Penn State quarterbacks?
Statistics can only take us so far in this question. That’s why I’ve asked the veteran reporters who have covered Penn State football for their rankings and thoughts on where McSorley ranks among the greats at the most important position in football.
“I’d rank him as the best quarterback Penn State has had in the last 20 years, no problem,” said Donnie Collins, who has covered Penn State football since the early 2000’s for the Scranton Times Tribune.
Modern college offenses have skewed these records in favor of contemporary signal callers and it would be an injustice to past generations to base our rankings solely on numbers alone. Stats are comfortable because they offer quasi-scientific proof to a point. But they don’t tell the whole story. It’s not just that the modern game of football is more wide open either,
“Many of the older guys weren’t eligible as freshmen, played 10 or 11 game schedules (and bowl stats didn’t count).That’s how Evan Royster, while a good back but not a great one, winds up atop the career rushing list ahead of Curt Warner, Blair Thomas, Lenny Moore and other truly great backs. Barkley is an exception of a guy who played just three years and amasses the numbers he did,” commented Neil Rudel, who’s covered Penn State Football since 1977.
What’s Your Criteria?
In the end it all comes down to what you want out of a player. Collins thinks that a player of his namesake is the best to play in Blue and White.
“Historically, he (McSorley) becomes more difficult to rank because it becomes more about preference. The best I saw play was Kerry Collins, and I think the fact that he had a long NFL career backs that up.”
Some have criteria that prevent McSorley from being highly ranked, yet.
“Just as a cursory look, I wouldn’t have Trace in the top 3 just yet. With Kerry Collins’ recent election to the College Football Hall of Fame, Penn State now has 4 QBs in the Hall: Collins, Glenn Killinger, Shorty Miller, Richie Lucas. Trace at least would be behind them, in the historical context.Hard to say he isn’t in the top 5, though. And definitely will be after next year. Probably higher,” said Mark Wogenrich of the Allentown Morning Call.
Below is the rankings of the media members who responded to the survey.The criteria are their own, as are the rankings. To keep things simple, they were only asked to submit their top three all-time quarterbacks in Penn State history. If Trace McSorley wasn’t on that list, a short explanation as to where they think he fits. Here are their answers.
Reporter for York Daily Record
PSU Reporter since 1994
- Kerry Collins: He did more than put up great numbers in arguably the most prolific offense in college football history. He was maybe the best leader, too. He made every big play to lead the Lions’ last undefeated season. Just elected into the College Football Hall of Fame.
- Trace McSorley: Produced the two most prolific passing seasons ever but also did it with stunning efficiency. Best in the clutch and running ability sets him above. He’s 22-5 as a starter.
- Todd Blackledge: Led Penn State to its first national title with a pass game before its time. He threw for more touchdowns (22) as a senior than Collins.
Managing Editor: The Altoona Mirror, Penn State Football Columnist
Covered PSU Football since 1977
- Kerry Collins: He was pilot of school’s most prolific offense and unbeaten season of 1994. Surrounded by super offensive talent, no question. Actually started just one full season. Just elected to College Football Hall of Fame, PSU’s first QB since Richie Lucas (1960) to be so honored. No. 5 overall section of 1995 Draft. Played parts of 17 NFL seasons.
- Todd Blackledge: Led Lions to first national title (1982). Took over starting reins in 1980, and culminated with 1982 win over Georgia. Like Collins, surrounded by great offensive talent. Schedule was arguably the toughest three-year stretch in school history with intersectional wins over Nebraska (twice), Notre Dame (twice), USC (’81 Fiesta Bowl with Marcus Allen) plus traditional Eastern opponents Pitt (twice with Marino), BC (with Flutie) and WVU (with Jeff Hostetler). Only three regular-season losses in two years were twice to Alabama (Joe couldn’t beat the Bear) and at Miami. Like Collins, a first-round draft pick.
- Trace McSorley: Best passing-running threat in school history. Barring injury, will leave with every significant passing record. Led resurgence that resulted in 2017 Big Ten title, consecutive 11-win seasons and finally put the sanctions in the rear-view mirror. Tremendous leader whose ability to make the big play in the clutch is unsurpassed. Strong candidate, again barring injury, for 2018 Heisman Trophy.
Reporter for PennLive
Covering PSU since 2002
- Kerry Collins: College Hall of Famer was the most physical gifted thrower ever to play at Penn State, the leader of the 1994 offense.
- Trace McSorley: Legit dual-threat who doesn’t get enough credit for his ability to make plays with his legs. Two huge seasons at PSU in the spread and a legit 2018 Heisman contender. 22-5 as a starter, with four losses coming by a total of 10 points. Another year like 2017 and he will be at the top.
- Todd Blackledge: Finally put it all together during his final season at PSU and he was very good in the Lions’ big win over Nebraska that fueled the National Title run.
The Times Tribune
Covered PSU Since 2004
My all-time list (of guys I’ve seen) would be
- Kerry Collins
- Todd Blackledge
- Trace McSorley
As you may have noticed, McSorley is in the top three quarterbacks for all media members that were polled except one. Most of them agree as well that he can climb higher with another outstanding performance in his senior year.
StateCollege.com’s Mike Poorman, who declined to give a ranking because he felt it’s too early to judge McSorley’s career did offer this insight,
“I’ve had discussions with PSU QB’s over the years about what their job is: Most say “win”, “lead” and score touchdowns. Win is always first.”
According to Poorman’s data, McSorley is 8th all-time in win percentage.
With that in mind, here is how the poll broke down:
Penn State Beat: All-Time QB List
1. Kerry Collins
2. TIE- Trace McSorley and Todd Blackledge
Collins was the runaway winner according to the media members I polled, taking every first place vote. Many agreed that his NFL career, which includes a Super Bowl appearance, backs that up. Collins had an eye-popping 10 yards per completion in his college career as well. Even McSorley is not close to that particular record.
Blackledge and McSorley tied with an equal number of 2nd and 3rd place votes. While not every media member polled gave a specific rank, one thing is clear: Trace McSorley has a chance to be the best quarterback in Penn State history if he can deliver another successful season for the Nittany Lions. McSorley does not have the physical skills to play in the NFL, so the final chapter in his story will have to be epic.
One that will get your heart racing and make you pay attention to it for once
Or as Poorman put it, ‘Win’, ‘lead’ and ‘score touchdowns’. Win is always first.”