But you don't win hardware based on projections. You win on results -- and Hackenberg needs to greatly improve his numbers if he stands an chance at attending the Heisman ceremony.
He threw for 12 touchdowns to 15 interceptions last season in what, statistically, was a disappointing sophomore season. But he boasts plenty of intelligence and arm strength and, thanks to a favorable schedule, he could lead the Nittany Lions to double-digit wins this season.
Numbers he needs: Hackenberg has shown -- in spurts -- what makes him so dangerous. He completed 68.1 percent of his passes against UCF last year and threw for 454 yards. He had 371 yards, four TD passes and no interceptions in the Pinstripe Bowl. Even during his rookie campaign, he impressed with an upset win against 25-point favorite Wisconsin when he threw for 339 yards, four TDs and no interceptions. But Hackenberg needs to put up those numbers nearly every week, not just a few times a season.
In seven of 13 games last season, he threw for less than 200 yards. In five contests, he completed less than half of his passes. Now, that wasn't all his fault. But numbers certainly play a role in the Heisman Trophy, and Hackenberg needs to find a lot more consistency in 2015.
Potential Heisman moment: Thanks to a cupcake non-conference schedule, the Nittany Lions could very well start 6-0 before playing defending national champion Ohio State at The Horseshoe. PSU nearly upset the Buckeyes last season, and nothing would impress voters more than to watch Hackenberg carve up a defense featuring an All-American lineman, linebacker and defensive back.
A victory would thrust Hackenberg and Penn State into the limelight, and the Lions wouldn't face their second-toughest test until the regular-season finale against Michigan State. That's plenty of time to get the hype going.
The dream dies if: Hackenberg doesn't post big numbers against the non-conference opponents. Hackenberg needs to start hot against Temple, which actually boasts a pretty good defense, but Heisman contenders need to dominate all of the lesser teams. Marcus Mariota didn't take it easy on South Dakota in 2014; he threw for 267 yards and three TDs. Hackenberg can't afford a repeat of last season, when he went 12-of-23 with no touchdowns against UMass. He has to put up big numbers against Buffalo, San Diego State and Army. Or the dream will be dead by Week 5.