When you have a running back that goes by the nickname King ‘Quon and a quarterback anointed the Wizard of Camelot on national TV, there really is no choice but to refer to them with a royal tone. The thing is, these Lions are anything but prim and proper on the battlefield. They’re warriors of the gridiron. They slay giants with swiftness and claim victories that would put Sir Lancelot to shame. They’re lethal and darn near unstoppable. Check that, they WERE unstoppable during the 9-game win streak and right down to the very end of the heartbreaking loss to USC in the Granddaddy of Them All, the Rose Bowl.
Of course, I’m talking Saquon and Trace, first names need only apply when it comes to this dynamic duo. The Royal Lions of the Happy Valley Backfield are back to wreak havoc on Big Ten turf! Just this week they clocked in as two of the Top 25 players in college football by both the Sporting News and ESPN with Barkley cracking the Top 5 at No. 4 respectively. McSorley enters the 2017 season 19 touchdowns shy of the all-time-record after tossing 29 a year ago and crushing the single season record in both yards (3,614) and touchdowns. King ‘Quon is just a shade over 1,300 yards away from etching his place atop the record books in almost every career rushing category, eclipsing legendary names like Curt Warner, Lydell Mitchell, and Blair Thomas. He stands as good a chance as any to be called up to the podium in early December when they announce the Heisman Trophy winner and his alter-ego in the backfield makes the preseason watch list as well.
Sadly, gone are the days of the rough and tumble Nittany Lion fullback (may they rest in piece for all those still pining for the good ‘ol days). But in their place, is as dynamic a duo that Penn State’s seen since the days of Kerry and Ki-Jana, first names need only apply for those two legends as well.
On any given Saturday, the backups are just a play away. Dare I mention the dreaded ‘I’ word, but if McSorley or Barkley were ever forced to miss significant time, the rosters stocked with potential bursting at the seams of those fancy white pants with the strange blue stripe we all caught glimpses of this week as Penn State got back to the grind of training camp. At quarterback, redshirt sophomore and April’s Blue-White sensation, Tommy Stevens, appears to have closed the gap that separated him from McSorley last August. Trace has earned every right to his lofty status but Stevens gives the Lions the luxury of having little to know drop-off should the Wizard be forced out of action. In fact, because of his size advantage, the armchair quarterback gurus have claimed that Stevens stands a better chance of making it to the next level when and if he gets his opportunity. Behind them, Jake Zembiec and Billy Fessler battle for the No. 3 slot with highly touted true freshman Sean Clifford waiting in the wings.
Behind Barkley is a collection of talent eager to take the load off Saquon’s shoulders. Sophomores Andre Robinson, Miles Sanders, and junior jitterbug Mark Allen will see plenty of action in the rotation, especially if that juggernaut of an offense puts opponents out early as they’re expected to in at least a handful of games. Robinson is more of a “between the tackles” back that runs a defense over, while Sanders makes a defense miss with his cuts and speed. Allen has shown a knack for using his diminutive size to disappear before a defense’s eyes and pop out on the other side. Freshman Journey Brown is an intriguing prospect that Franklin picked up late last year but he seems destined to redshirt unless they use his record setting speed as a punt or kickoff returner. It’s hard to compare any one of these backs to the once-in-a-lifetime talents of Barkley, but as a collective they should more than hold their own when their numbers are called.
With all due respect to McSorley and his adopted nickname, the true Wizard of them all is offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead. He’s the one that’s mixed the potion that has proven so lethal on the gridiron. He came in during a perfect storm and implemented the perfect scheme for the talent he has to work with. Of course, he’s back for another round calling the shots which may be just as scary as King ‘Quon staring you dead in the eyes with the rock tucked under his arm or The Wizard when he gets his mojo going at full force. Word from former players of Moorhead is that year two in his offense is even more thrilling than the first! Sit back and enjoy the ride folks, the Royal Lions of Happy Valley have more giants in their crosshairs!