Maybe It Is Time To Acknowledge That Christian Hackenberg Isn’t a Great QB

Many times we want things to be true so badly that we ignore all the evidence which tells us otherwise. Rather than possibly pointing out the obvious, we instead shift blame to others, make excuses as to why there’s a shortcoming in that specific desirable area, or simply go into a state of full denial.

Unfortunately, for Penn State fans at least, many are currently residing in the “Christian Hackenberg is the dopest no matter what” county of Pennsylvania, but only because logic needs not apply to a guy who hasn’t exactly set the world on fire.

The story is well known by now: Penn State entered a state of college football purgatory after the NCAA overstepped its jurisdiction and forced all sorts of sanctions onto the Nittany Lions. Then Bill O’Brien used the decomposing roster left to him because of the aftermath of it all, only to exceed expectations and put Penn State back on track, using a walk-on from Scranton, Pennsylvania as the university’s savior. O’Brien had left the program in a better place than when he found it.

How much better? Well, considering Penn State seemed destined to become one of those programs which would receive the annual “Will they ever return to greatness?” debates, and instead wound up being coddled in a series of “Oh, look, Penn State is doing better than it should” stories, it is pretty safe to say the Nittany Lions are in a far better place than they probably should have been, given what the NCAA originally tried to do to the program.

Before O’Brien left for the NFL, he scooped up a prized prospect for the school, former five-star (as high as the number one overall QB prospect by some) Fork Union Military Academy standout Christian Hackenberg.

All things considered, which is before the world collectively decided that freshmen quarterbacks should be great from the word go, Hackenberg had a good freshman campaign under O’Brien. With a roster still suffering from NCAA sanctions, Hackenberg hurled 20 touchdown passes to only 10 interceptions, threw for nearly 3,000 yards, and completed 58.9 percent of his passes — all of which gave him a passer rating of 134.

It seemed as though the hype of Hack was going to be met. The desire by Penn State fans to have an on the field savior was going to be satisfied. However, defining players by merely one year of performance seems rather silly — especially given the benefit of hindsight we have now.

Hackenberg’s sophomore season wasn’t good. In fact, statistically at least, it was far closer to being a bad season for the gunslinger than an average one. Everything was down: his completion percentage dropped to 55.8, he threw more interceptions (15) than touchdowns (12), and his rating dropped to 109.

But this is America. Land of the free and home of “if we like a guy or want him to be something so badly we can’t see the forest from the trees.” Experts, fans, and general media folk decided that most — if not all — of Hackenberg’s shortcomings were other players’ or coaches’ faults, or both.

The offensive line was a mess, or he had no weapons, or he was forced to adapt into a new system, or the plethora of other excuses were made for his sophomore season. Much of it was valid too: It was not as though Christian Hackenberg was afforded the luxury of playing behind one of the nation’s best offensive lines, nor was he passing the ball to some of the conference’s best receivers. Still, it always seemed kind of silly to never attribute any of Hackenberg’s woes to, you know, him. You would think at least someone, anyone really, would ask if he was actually as good as everyone talked about.

It will likely happen more now, though. After Penn State lost to Temple — yes, Temple — while Hackenberg was sacked 10 times, tossed a pick, had zero touchdowns, and completed only a horrendous 11 of 25 pass attempts, it seems logical for more folks to ponder the age old question directed toward a starting quarterback: “Is he good or bad?”

It seems like a rather easy question to answer at this point. Sure, excuses can be made — yes, even valid ones to boot, to excuse his shaky play. However, there’s a huge difference in the right now between Hackenberg the highly touted prospect-turned-freshman-darling and the guy who threw for only 103 yards and looked as out of place as a quarterback as any lining up behind center in the country. We now have even more evidence that points to him not being as great a signal-caller as we have all agreed he was a few years ago.

No matter. Excuses will still be made. Penn State fans, as well as media folks who refuse to acknowledge that they may be wrong, will continue to point to all the things working against Christian Hackenberg — which simply makes it all the more difficult to have a rational discussion about the QB’s inability to lead Penn State to a win over a Temple team that shouldn’t belong on the same field as the Nittany Lions.

With that latter part being something I am sure most Penn State fans agree strongly with, it brings us to another point in the Hackenberg and Penn State discussion: a college program can’t have it all. It can’t have excuses as to why its QB isn’t performing well, but at the same time say the program is on the way back to the top of the Big Ten.

How can a roster composed of so-called bums — bums who supposedly take away much of Hackenberg’s ability to play well — comprise the same type of roster that is bringing Penn State back to the top of the mountain? There’s no way to argue out of that contradiction.

We have yet to mention the fact that those who think Penn State is back on the right track, but continue to make excuses as far as the roster goes to invalidate all criticisms hurled toward the general direction of Hackenberg, praise(d) the hire of James Franklin — who is, you know, responsible for the players playing alongside ol’ Never Makes Mistakes Hack.

Christian Hackenberg may very well be a victim of his own circumstances. He could possibly be a good to very good to even great quarterback. Yet, by committing to Penn State to play for a coach who is no longer there, that could possibly be the biggest reason for his inability to live up to the hype that came with him from high school and only escalated after his freshman campaign. Then again, there’s very little proof to say he was that good a college quarterback to begin with…

Only excuses.

About Joseph Nardone

Joseph has covered college basketball both (barely) professionally and otherwise for over five years. A Column of Enchantment for Rush The Court on Thursdays and other basketball stuff for The Student Section on other days.