I was half-tempted to call this one ‘Life After Saquon,’ or SaSa, or King ‘Quon, or SuperQuon or whatever other titles the newly crowned King of New York was dubbed over the course of his magnificent three-year run in Happy Valley. Yes, I was tempted but in the end, The Wizard won out and deservedly so. For all the memories that Mr. Barkley etched in our brains, he was most definitely a once in a lifetime talent, life goes on for Penn State heading into a new season and with Trace McSorley in charge, the Nittany Lion backfield does not intend to skip a beat. In fact, with an O-Line itching to shed its recent reputation as a liability and a bevy of 5-star talent and hidden gems chomping at the bit, this year’s backfield just might be more balanced and dare I say, even better than it was a year ago.
It all begins and ends with Trace, who’s just a season away from staking his claim atop all the major records, and the chance at another solid playoff run which would cement his legacy as one of the very best. He was tagged The Wizard towards the end of 2016 as he led the Nittany Lions to an improbable Big Ten title, and it’s stuck ever since, but the truth is, the man should have been labeled The General instead. All he does is lead and win, despite his somewhat ‘smallish stature’ and “less than overwhelming arm,” according to the pundits. I’ve seen him sling it downfield far too many times to count with my own two eyes and so have you. He’s a legit Heisman-candidate heading into his final season and ranked the Top QB in most preseason polls, although completely left off of a few as well, which will only serve to add fuel to his fire.
Behind McSorley awaits a Lion ready to pounce. One of this off-season’s biggest storylines was backup QB Tommy Stevens decision to remain in Blue and White. With one epic tweet late this spring, Touchdown Tommy set us all at ease and made a statement to the college football world that Penn State means business. Of course, Tommy Stevens is anything but your average backup QB and as Penn State prepared for the Fiesta Bowl last December, we witnessed the birth of the ‘Lion’ position created exclusively for him and designed to take advantage of his ability to keep defenses on their toes when he takes the field, either as a decoy or as another weapon in our offensive arsenal. Behind the two T’s is redshirt freshman Sean Clifford who appears to have a solid grip on 3rdteam with his eyes set on being Penn State’s QB of the future. Jake Zembiec and true freshman Will Levis round out our depth with Levis expected to take a redshirt this year as he learns the ropes.
Tasked with stepping into the shoes left behind by Saquon is the 2016 No. 1 ranked high school running back of the year, Miles Sanders. The thing is, Mr. Sanders does not have his sights set on following in Saquon’s footsteps but instead fully intends on blazing a path of his own. The junior from Pittsburgh has patiently waited his turn and is more than capable of easing our minds over the loss of Barkley. Pure ability is not the question when it comes to Sanders, the only true question is how quickly he can develop a comfortable chemistry as The Wizard’s new partner in crime in the backfield. Senior Mark Allen has seen the highs and lows over the course of his career and provides a veteran presence, while Jonathan Thomas has been mentioned several times recently as the off-season heads into training camp mode. Redshirt freshman Journey Brown is a speed demon and has the potential of being a hidden gem, while the future rests squarely in the hands of true freshman and 2017 Virginia Gatorade Player of the Year, Ricky Slade, who just might be the best of the lot and is far too good to waste on the sideline.
Yes, I battled with naming this position preview ‘Life After Saquon’ simply because of the huge void he left behind in the backfield, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that life after a legend is not all that bad when you have The Wizard, a Lion, and Miles to Run in the aftermath. The biggest question this off-season is whether 2018 will be a year to rebuild or a year to reload, but as we wrap up our previews on the offensive side of the ball, the picture is now clearer than ever that rebuilding is not even an option. Five years into the FrankLion era, our fearless leader built Penn State back into a perennial Top 10 program, regardless of who moves on to the next level, and Coach Franklin won’t be satisfied until Penn State wins the entire thing once again and fills that empty glass case that awaits another National Championship trophy. Up next, we turn our attention to the defense. We took some hits there as well, but trust me, there’s talent by the truckload and at first glance. The best is yet to come.