Play on field favors McSorley

I won’t say a bad word about Christian Hackenberg the man. He’s a good, intelligent, respectable person who was a terrific representative of Penn State, and I wish him nothing but the best in life.

But Hackenberg is not a very good quarterback. He did some things well at Penn State but ultimately was a massive underachiever, and in my view he will never be a good NFL quarterback.

What we must be able to do in sports is separate the person from the player. That usually comes into play when we’re talking about bad dudes who cause a lot of problems but are exceptionally talented, but it also can swing the other way when talking about a fine young man who’s just not a very good player.

Many people fall back on the default argument that Hackenberg helped save Penn State football by sticking with the Nittany Lions through the scandal and sanctions, therefore he meant more to the program than most other players.

It’s a romantic notion.

But here’s the brutal truth: Penn State was better off that Hackenberg left early for the NFL because there’s no way he would have been able to lead the team to the Big Ten title last season the way Trace McSorley did.

In Joe Moorhead’s offense, which requires a mobile quarterback, the Lions probably would have been in the 8-4 range with a trip to the Outback Bowl had Hackenberg stayed.

Hackenberg was solid as a freshman when he had superstar receiver Allen Robinson, then regressed badly after Bill O’Brien left and he had to play behind a terrible offensive line for two years. He became a broken quarterback, and that’s unfortunate.

He went a respectable 7-6 the last two years, and people speculated that the program might have fallen apart if he wasn’t there. Those people seem to forget that the offense was pretty lousy those two years, and for every good throw Hackenberg made, he countered it with a bad one.

Many people applaud Hackenberg for sticking it out those last two years and being loyal to PSU rather than transferring. Again, that’s a charming story line.

But the irony is that both sides probably would have been better off had he transferred. It would have been better for his career development, and it would have been better for James Franklin because the new coach wouldn’t have been stuck with an immobile quarterback who couldn’t throw the ball accurately.

McSorley stepped into the starter’s role last year and led PSU to one of the most remarkable seasons in program history, making numerous clutch plays along the way and showing he’s a winner, plain and simple.

The Lions are back to being nationally prominent and ranked No. 4 in the country, and that will have tremendous benefits for the program going forward. McSorley is a huge factor in that.

Judging solely on their play on the field — which is the bottom line in sports — rather than romantic notions such as character and loyalty, McSorley is an excellent college quarterback, while Hackenberg was a major disappointment.