Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg hasn't played like a potential first-round draft pick, arguably, since 2013, and his first two starts of 2015 haven't inspired any suggestion to the contrary. But the chorus of believers in Hackenberg's lofty draft status is only getting louder. Embattled Rutgers coach Kyle Flood added his name to the list this week in describing the Nittany Lions' enigmatic star as the Scarlet Knights prepare to face PSU on Saturday (8 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network).
Coaches' praise for opponents is always most effusive in the days leading up to a game, so take the remark with the proper context. After all, Flood is trying to get his defense to believe that a quarterback with a dismal passer rating of 87.9 is actually an elite talent that poses a big threat this week.
After absorbing an FBS-high 44 sacks a year ago, Hackenberg was sacked 10 times in Penn State's season-opening loss to Temple. Between the Owls' pass rush and a rainstorm that soaked PSU's second game -- a win over Buffalo -- he's dealt with less-than-ideal passing conditions so far this season.
It has produced less-than-ideal results for Hackenberg: 25 for 52, 231 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
After the season, Hackenberg will have to decide whether he believes the hype enough to leave PSU and enter the 2016 NFL Draft as a junior. However, if his production doesn't sharply improve, returning to school and entering the 2017 draft might be the smarter play.
Rutgers' pass defense has been torched for 339 yards per game over the first two weeks of the season, ranking 116th of 127 FBS teams, so the conditions for Hackenberg this week should finally be right for a breakout performance.
But the Scarlet Knights are actually really good in the secondary -- just ask PSU coach James Franklin.