Confident quarterbacks guide Penn State, Pitt, West Virginia

September 18, 2018

Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett goes through during drills on the firs day of practice Friday, Aug. 3, 2018 UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.

What fun this college football season would be if Penn State and West Virginia were playing each other, just like they did every year from 1947-92.

But that was a stopping point for the series dominated by Penn State, 48-9-2, and set to resume for two years in 2023-24.

But that will be too late for quarterbacks Trace McSorley of Penn State and Will Grier of West Virginia, two potential Heisman Trophy candidates. Both teams are expected to be among the best in their conferences.

Together, they threw for 7,569 yards and 62 touchdowns last season. More of the same is expected this year.

At Pitt, Kenny Pickett is a long way from Heisman consideration, but Panthers fans attach a lot of hope to a quarterback with one career start.

Here’s a closer look at all three:

Penn State’s Trace McSorley

Coach James Franklin said there was a palpable buzz when McSorley arrived on campus. He proved himself to be a leader almost immediately.

“You know what you’re getting with Trace,” Franklin said. “How he practices, how he plays in games, how he is in the community, how he is in school.

“He’s gotten better in all those areas, but he came in very mature and with a very good understanding of what it takes to be a success at this level.

“The best ones, that’s what they do. They live right. They approach the game the same way.”

McSorley led the Big Ten in passing last season (274.6 yards per game) while his completion percentage improved from 57.9 to 66.5.

Without running back Saquon Barkley, perhaps McSorley will need more downfield throws to move the ball, which shouldn’t be a problem. His average yards per completion in 2016 was 16.1.

Another point that shouldn’t be minimized: Former offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead is now the head coach at Mississippi State. Penn State fans will bring that up if McSorley starts to struggle.

West Virginia’s Will Grier

After Grier threw for 3,490 yards and 34 touchdowns last season, his university wasn’t afraid to mention -- in fact, trumpet -- his Heisman candidacy, having created the website Grier7Heisman.com to keep everyone up to date.

Coach Dana Holgorsen isn’t a Heisman voter, but he likes what he’s seen in his quarterback.

“He’s just a guy who understands the game. Really, really low maintenance, high football IQ,” he said.

Holgorsen believes Grier has the mental makeup to not take himself too seriously, a personality trait that will serve him well amidst all the hype.

“I would never approve a (Heisman) campaign unless I felt like a player could handle it,” Holgorsen said. “That’s my job as far as managing players, and Will is a very older, mature coach’s kid. I’ve made this comment several times. He’s ready for this. He’s prepared himself his whole life for this.”

Grier has some mobility, but Holgorsen prefers to have his quarterback throw the football and let others run with it.

“I am looking forward to getting back to doing things we used to do really well, which is sit in the pocket and throw the thing all over the place,” he said.

Grier has come a long way since missing part of the 2015 season at Florida for PED use.

Pitt’s Kenny Pickett

Pickett was, of course, exaggerating to make a point when he said, “I could throw it blindfold to Ra-ra (Araujo-Lopes) and Maurice Ffrench.”

He was referring to the number of times this summer -- before training camp -- he worked out with those wide receivers. He didn’t run down a list of every pass catcher, but he’s also spent plenty of time with Aaron Mathews, Dontavius Butler-Jenkins, Tre Tipton, Shocky Jacques-Louis and several others. To be clear, though, it’s pretty much what every passing combination does over the summer months.

“That’s how we feel it’s supposed to be,” Araujo-Lopes said. “That’s been our goal. Kenny can trust us, not even see us open and trust we’re going to be in the spot to make a play.”

That’s an ideal situation, but Penn State and Miami defenders weren’t around the Pitt complex this summer to provide opposition for Pickett. Pitt fans should temper their enthusiasm until their young sophomore quarterback gets more than one start on his resume.

But the kid is supremely confident for someone who won’t be 21 until next June.

“People are attracted to confidence,” Pickett said. “That’s a huge thing I have going for myself. When you’re a confident quarterback, people want to be around you.”

The question remains: Will the pass catchers and quarterback grow up at the same rate?

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