Trace McSorley walked up to his podium at Big Ten media days, and before the raspy-voiced quarterback could take a sip of water, the first question was blurted out.
Are you going to win the Heisman?
The seven-word inquiry was made tongue-in-cheek, but it set the inevitable tone for McSorley’s hour-long availability. The Heisman Trophy candidate was peppered with questions all afternoon about hoisting the bronze statue and leading the Nittany Lions’ offense without a certain running back by his side. For reference, “Saquon” was said 12 times in the first 20 minutes of McSorley’s media session.
Over the entire 60 minutes, McSorley answered repeat questions like a pro and insisted he doesn’t mind the increased attention. Whether or not queries about Barkley and college football’s most coveted award get old come October, that’s a different story. But for now, McSorley is enjoying the preseason hype.
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“I’m not one to take it for granted,” McSorley said with a smile. “One of the things that coach (Joe) Moorhead left with me — whether it’s taking pictures or whatever — was to try and do as much as I can because at some point, no one’s really going to care. That was his mentality, and it’s the same way when you talk about these preseason things. This is really the one time in my life that I’ll have this opportunity and these honors going around.”
And there are plenty of honors to celebrate. McSorley has made every watch list in silly season. He was named college football’s top quarterback by Sporting News and USA Today. The only players with better odds to win the Heisman, according to Bovada, are Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailova and running backs Jonathan Taylor of Wisconsin and Bryce Love of Stanford. And on Monday, McSorley was the only unanimous choice to the Big Ten’s preseason watch list.
That’s quite a bit to take in. But thankfully, McSorley has experience dealing with this kind of attention. Sort of. He watched Barkley handle the hype in 2017 and learned a thing or two.
“You look at Week 6 last year, everyone was saying, ‘Hand him the award,’” McSorley said of Barkley and the Heisman. “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.”
Penn State head coach James Franklin made the same comparison. After calling it “ridiculous” that Barkley’s name fell out of the Heisman conversation late last season, the coach worked in one of the program’s favorite mantras.
“Let’s focus on the things we can control,” Franklin said. “It’s wonderful that our guys are getting some attention for their hard work and sacrifices. But it’s really not what defines us.”
McSorley knows that. He understands that it’s “the best players on the best teams” that typically win prestigious awards. The fifth-year senior put up 4,061 total yards and 39 touchdowns in 2017. That is good enough to contend for the Heisman this year, and if Penn State is in contention for a College Football Playoff spot, it’s probably because he has naturally replicated those numbers.
His teammates believe it can happen, too. Penn State cornerback Amani Oruwariye thinks McSorley is “ready for this moment,” while safety Nick Scott “couldn’t think of someone more deserving” of the preseason laurels.
“I’m excited to see what he does this year,” Scott added, “because he’s only getting better.”
In the meantime, McSorley is trying to stay grounded. It’s all he can do until Sept. 1.
“It’s just hype,” the quarterback said, before being asked another question about the Heisman. “What’s going to matter is what happens during the year.”