… But don’t overlook McSorley in the race

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UNIVERSITY PARK — Penn State could have a Heisman Trophy winner this season, but don’t just assume it would be Saquon Barkley.

As good as the stellar running back was last season, the view here is that quarterback Trace McSorley was more deserving of Heisman consideration.

I vote for the Heisman, as does Mirror colleague Neil Rudel, and voters submit first place, second place and third place selections. Neil actually voted McSorley second, and while I didn’t really give either Penn State player much consideration for my top three, I would have voted for McSorley over Barkley if forced to pick one.

Barkley is the better football player. No doubt. The guy is a stud, will be a top draft pick and should be an NFL star for years to come.

But what is the Heisman Trophy for? You’re kidding yourself if you think it’s actually for the best college football player in the country each year. It’s simply for a quarterback or running back who puts up fantastic numbers, usually on one of the best teams.

I view the Heisman more like an MVP, and the magic McSorley was able to pull off last season in PSU’s dynamic passing game made him the more valuable part of the Nittany Lions’ improbable run to the Big Ten title.

“He made sure he put this team on his back,” receiver DaeSean Hamilton said Saturday at Lift For Life.

“We all knew how good Trace was, and all it took was him to have a chance to show it,” Hamilton later added.

If Penn State goes 11-1 or 10-2 this season, the guess here is that McSorley once again will be a bigger reason why than Barkley. Even if only slightly.

Why? Because this is a Joe Moorhead offense, and Moorhead wants to throw the ball, spread the field and take a lot of deep shots. That all lends itself to McSorley putting up big numbers once again and being the catalyst for an explosive offense that’s likely to average 40 points or more.

The most impressive stat by any PSU player last season was this: McSorley led the country in yards per completion at 16.13. That’s a staggering number — especially for a Penn State quarterback — and one that shows just how important the big pass play is to the Lions’ attack.

Going into his second year as the starter, McSorley said, “You know more and you understand the offense more, the little intricacies.”

That’s what could make McSorley even more dangerous this season.

Yes, receiver Chris Godwin is gone to the NFL, so perhaps the quarterback won’t have as much success on deep 50-50 balls. But McSorley now knows when he needs to take off in the run-pass option — something he didn’t figure out until midway through last season — plus he has a year of reading defenses under his belt and should be able to make big strides at taking what the defense gives him underneath instead of going for the home run ball.

“He understands the whole mental aspect of the game and (that) to become a great quarterback also is a big mental game, as well,” said tight end Mike Gesicki, who could turn out to be an even more important target this season after catching 48 passes a year ago.

Every team PSU plays has to decide one big thing on defense: Do they load up the box trying to stop Barkley, or do they play back to try and stop McSorley from burning them through the air?

“That’s really hard,” Hamilton said. “You try to stop the run, you’ve got so many weapons on the outside. You try and take away the pass, you’ve got Trace who’s good with his feet, and you have Saquon, the best running back in college football.

“It’s tough for anybody. I’d hate to call a game against us because we’re going to find a way to get our weapons the ball in space, and we’re going to find a way to put us in a better opportunity for our offense to succeed.”

Football 101 suggests trying to stop a team’s ground game first, so count on more teams gearing up to keep Barkley in check, as was the case last year. That’s not to say any teams actually will keep him in check, but that will be the game plan.

In this offense, and as good as McSorley is running it, Penn State still should be able to put up a lot of points and win games even if Barkley has some tough days. And let’s face it, a couple of tough games for a running back can essentially knock him out of Heisman contention.

One other thing to consider in the whole discussion: With two guys on the same team both likely to put up big numbers, Barkley and McSorley could sort of cancel each other out in Heisman voting, costing both of them a chance to win it.

But hey, talk about a good problem to have.

“Trace is one of the better players in college football right now,” Hamilton said. “The whole country, he’s on everyone’s radar. But it’s nothing new to us. We already knew that.”

Cory Giger is the host of “Sports Central” weekdays from 4 to 6 p.m. on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM.

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