By Michael Donovan
You might think it’s early to think about college football in 2018.
Or the race for the Heisman Trophy.
But at yesterday’s Big 10 media day in Chicago, both subjects were much talked about.
Listen to Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley, whom many feel is in the race for this year’s Heisman.
“You look at Week 6 last year, everyone was saying, ‘Hand him the award,’” McSorley told the Chicago Tribune about Saquon Barkley. “And then he’s not a finalist at the end of the year. You know it can flip. You can’t look too hard into it.”
McSorley, the only unanimous selection to the 10-player list of preseason honorees the Big Ten announced yesterday, won’t be able to avoid the spotlight this season with Barkley gone. But he isn’t one to get ahead of himself anyway.
A fifth-year senior, McSorley threw for 3,570 yards and 28 touchdowns last season and has thrown at least one touchdown pass in 28 consecutive games — the longest active FBS streak. He rushed for another 491 yards and 11 touchdowns on 144 carries.
He’s tied for the fourth-shortest odds in Bovada’s latest listings, behind Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and running backs Bryce Love of Stanford and Jonathan Taylor of Wisconsin.
Penn State coach James Franklin said McSorley’s experience and level-headed attitude won’t let him get caught up in the added attention.
“I also think being at a place like Penn State, where football is very important, being a student-athlete is very important, Trace has been under a microscope,” Franklin said. “He’s been a big deal in our community a long time. He’s used to this. He’s prepared for this. He’s a well-rounded young man.”
While their season was largely a success with an 11-2 record and a Fiesta Bowl victory over Washington, back-to-back losses by a combined four points at Ohio State and Michigan State gnawed at McSorley and company and kept Penn State from defending its 2016 Big Ten title.
“You realize how small the margin of error is,” McSorley said. “We were so close last year with what we had. We don’t want to look back and say the same thing again.”
An experienced offensive line and McSorley’s dual-threat capabilities are expected to help minimize the loss of Barkley as the Nittany Lions try to dethrone Ohio State in the Big Ten East.
McSorley’s competitive edge should help too.
Despite the current accolades, he doesn’t forget the slights he has heard about his 6-foot stature. Now he draws comparisons to other shorter — and successful — quarterbacks such as Drew Brees and last year’s Heisman winner, Baker Mayfield.
“The prototype quarterback doesn’t really exist anymore,” Franklin said. “Whether it’s NFL, college, high school, you need to have a guy at that position that can beat you in multiple ways, and Trace can do that with his mind, from a decision-making perspective, (with his) arm. (He) doesn’t get enough credit for how well he throws the ball.”
McSorley said despite any awards — preseason or otherwise — he won’t lose the chip on his shoulder. He doesn’t want to.
“It’s gotten me to where I am,” he said. “It’s ingrained in me. That’s the mentality I have. That’s the mentality the team has. … You hear all the good things. But there are people out there with their (negative) opinions.
“It’s all going to be figured out in November (or) December. Right now I’m honored to have my name out there, but you have to be prepared to work and ready to come in with the mentality to get better.”