Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports
Christian Hackenberg is living up to his 5-star hype.
With two decisive wins, a quickly filling 2014 class and a hot-shot true freshman quarterback in Christian Hackenberg, coach Bill O'Brien has Penn State emerging as an underdog challenger for a Big Ten championship.
Factor in the history of Happy Valley, which isn't a happy place for visitors, and Brady Hoke's Wolverines will face quite a challenge Oct. 12 against the Nittany Lions, who are 6-10 versus Michigan.
Hackenberg, the No. 1 pro-styler of 2013 according to 247Sports, could end up as the face of the program if he continues to excel at his rampant pace. Despite throwing three interceptions, the 6'4", 220-pound former Fork Union Military (Va.) star has 589 passing yards and a 70 percent completion rate in two starts.
That's a great launch for the rocket-armed youngster who was playing against high schoolers a year ago.
O'Brien helped coach the New England Patriots' offense from 2008-2010, so he knows about NFL-level talent. With a little work, he believes that Hackenberg has the makings of a real-deal quarterback.
The second-year Penn State coach also said the following about Hackenberg's potential to PennLive.com's Bob Flounders.
A lot of it has to do with mechanics. He's able to use the proper footwork, and he's able to finish his throws and have his elbow in the proper place and have the proper grip on the ball.
He's a big, strong guy, and he's got a strong arm. His arm strength will continue to improve as he becomes stronger himself.
He's only 18 years old and as he gets more into our weight program, he will continue to get stronger. His leg strength and upper body strength will be better and you'll see his arm strength improve.
The Nittany Lions' offensive line must improve protection; Hackenberg has been sacked six times in two games. With the likes of Michigan on the horizon, keeping Hackenberg upright could be a challenge for Penn State once Big Ten play begins.
Not short on experience, the line has rising sophomore Donovan Smith guarding Hackenberg's blind side. Protection could be the difference Oct. 12—if Hackenberg gets it, his team will have a fighting chance.
Michigan's defensive line hasn't been incredibly intimidating thus far, but it ousted Central Michigan's Cody Kater after just six pass attempts in Week 1. The following week, Notre Dame's Tommy Rees eluded a sack during 50 of 51 passing attempts.