B1G 40: Will Christian Hackenberg be the Big Ten’s best QB?

B1G 40: Will Christian Hackenberg be the Big Ten’s best QB?
July 17, 2014, 10:15 am
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Vinnie Duber

As the dog days of summer arrive, the longing for football becomes all the more intense. Well, we here at CSNChicago.com are here to provide you with a summertime football fix. Over 40 days, CSN's Vinnie Duber will have 40 posts pondering the biggest questions heading into the 2014 Big Ten football season — the B1G 40 questions. Be sure to check out the entire B1G 40 series at csnchicago.com/big-ten.

Will Christian Hackenberg be the Big Ten’s best QB?

The Big Ten is not short on talented quarterbacks. That was well-evidenced by the quintet of names from the conference that landed on the watch list for the Davey O’Brien Award. And though Ohio State’s Braxton Miller is getting all the (warranted) Heisman buzz, it’s possible that he might not be the best QB … in his own conference.

Hackenberg was a true freshman last season for the Nittany Lions, and he was mighty impressive as a first-year college athlete. Only two Big Ten quarterbacks threw for more yards than Hackenberg and his 2,955 yards through the air. He passed for 20 touchdowns and threw 10 interceptions, all the while accounting for more offensive yards each week than all but three other players in the league (Miller was one of them).

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Though Penn State had another mediocre season in a year when they weren’t eligible to make the postseason, there was nothing but high hopes for Hackenberg moving forward at the close of the 2013 campaign. But then instability hit Penn State once again, with head coach Bill O’Brien, who recruited Hackenberg not long ago, departing to take the head-coaching job with the Houston Texans. There were those who wondered if O’Brien’s leaving meant Hackenberg would go somewhere else, too. Thankfully for the Lions, he stayed put when James Franklin was hired as O’Brien’s replacement. And it means heading into this season, Penn State has one of the most promising arms in the country.

Hackenberg has plenty of hurdles to clear, though, if he’s going to repeat his success from last season. Franklin’s arrival along with a brand-new coaching staff — not to mention a new offense — is one of the big ones. But there’s also a depleted wide-receiving corps that loses three of its top four leading receivers from a year ago. That starts with Allen Robinson, the conference’s wideout of the year and an All-Big Ten First Teamer. That’s 97 catches, 1,432 yards and six touchdowns out the door with one player. He was far and away Hackenberg’s favorite target, as he nearly quadrupled the number of receptions of the next-best pass-catcher on the team.

While the wideouts aren’t necessarily  experienced, the Nittany Lions do return two strong tight ends in Jesse James and Kyle Carter. Those two combined for 43 catches and 555 yards last season.

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Add to all that some lofty expectations that have seen Hackenberg’s name land on multiple preseason award watch lists. That even includes some Heisman buzz.

But none of that is bothering the sophomore-to-be.

"No, I mean, for me, it's just, I'm going to prepare as best as I can, I'm going to go out an try and execute the best I can and whatever happens, happens,'' Hackenberg told the Patriot News’ Bob Flounders.

So there’s plenty of competition when it comes to the title of the Big Ten’s top quarterback. Aside from Miller — who’s finished in the top 10 in Heisman voting in back-to-back seasons — there’s Michigan State’s Connor Cook, Michigan’s Devin Gardner and Indiana’s Nate Sudfeld. So it’s not like it’s Hackenberg’s distinction to win. But there are few who think Hackenberg can’t be one of the league’s best.