McSorley was only a three-star recruit despite starting four state title games and throwing for 12,000 career passing yards and 150 touchdowns at Ashburn, Virginia's Briar Woods High School. James Franklin recruited McSorley to Vanderbilt, and Richard Thomas III (thus Trace) followed Franklin to Happy Valley. He played seven games as a reserve in 2015 (20-of-40, 50.0 completion percentage, 185 yards, two touchdowns) and then exploded onto the national scene by earning second-team All-Big Ten honors as a sophomore (224-of-387, 57.9 completion percentage, 3,614 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, eight interceptions; 365 yards, seven touchdowns rushing in 14 starts). McSorley was the Big Ten Championship Game MVP in 2016 (22-of-31, 384 yards, four touchdowns) and led the FBS with 16.1 yards per completion. He excelled again as a junior, being named a finalist for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm and Manning Awards, as well as second-team all-conference. He ranked eighth in the FBS by completing 66.5 percent of his passes (284-427), which covered 3,570 yards and 28 touchdowns (against 10 interceptions). McSorley also rushed for 491 yards and 11 touchdowns to earn his team's Most Valuable Offensive Player. His passing statistics were not as impressive in his final campaign with the Nittany Lions (192-of-361, 53.2 completion percentage, 2,530 yards, 18 touchdowns, seven interceptions) but the team captain and second-team All-Big Ten selection was the unquestioned leader of the offense in 2018. He did a lot of damage against opposing defenses with his feet (170 rushes, 798 yards, 4.7 ypc, 12 touchdowns).