It might seem odd Saturday when Penn State plays Maryland and starts a quarterback from northern Virginia, while the Terps counter with a quarterback from Pittsburgh.
Actually, that’s been something of the norm during the 21st century. Both schools have consistently dipped into the other’s home recruiting area to sign quarterbacks.
This season is Trace McSorley’s first as the starter for Penn State after winning three Virginia state titles in high school. It is the ninth year in the past 16 that the Nittany Lions have started a quarterback from Maryland or Virginia.
This is the third season Perry Hills has started at Maryland after playing at the same high school that produced Dan Marino and Marc Bulger. He didn’t finish the other two, but his play is much improved and the Terps are 4-0 with a trip to Beaver Stadium up next on Saturday.
Maryland’s returns on its Pennsylvania quarterback investments have been mixed. A quarterback from Pennsylvania has started at least one game for Maryland in nine of the past 12 seasons.
Three of the six quarterbacks Maryland has signed from the Keystone State have been big disappointments, with two highly rated recruits leaving the program before their second season began. If Hills stays healthy, there will be eight quarterbacks in the program with at least 5,000 total yards and three of them will be guys from Pennsylvania recruited in the past 15 years.
Here’s a look at how each school has done recruiting quarterbacks in enemy territory, one of the interesting quirks in this rivalry:
Zack Mills, Ijamsville, Md. (2001-04)
Zack Mills played in 43 games for Penn State. It was rarely pretty, but he threw for 7,212 yards and 41 touchdowns. He also ran for 11 scores and caught a touchdown pass as a senior. He was a four-year starter, but the lone bowl season came in 2002 when Larry Johnson went for more than 2,000 rushing yards.
Michael Robinson, Richmond, Va. (2002-05)
Michael Robinson spent one season as the starter for Penn State, and he helped the Nittany Lions to a co-Big Ten championship, an Orange Bowl win against Florida State and a No. 3 ranking in the final Associated Press poll. He threw for 2,350 yards and 17 touchdowns, and ran for an additional 806 with 11 scores. Penn State was a controversial ending at Michigan away from an undefeated season, though it was unlikely the Nittany Lions would have earned a spot in the national championship game ahead of undefeated Texas or Southern Cal.
Christian Hackenberg, Palmyra, Va. (2013-15)
Christian Hackenberg was officially the No. 2 quarterback in the Class of 2013, according to the 247Sports composite rankings behind Southern Cal’s Max Browne. The only other player in that top 10 to become a consistent starter in college is Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett, who checked in at No. 10. Jared Goff, the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, was No. 21.
Hackenberg became the favorite to be the No. 1 pick after a freshman season with coach Bill O’Brien where he showed legitimate franchise quarterback potential. Whether it was his relationship with James Franklin, the insane number of sacks or a constant debate about his NFL draft status, the focus was rarely on Hackenberg’s play in his final two seasons. He did start 38 games, and finished with 8,457 passing yards, 48 touchdowns and a 21-17 record despite the obvious team limitations that came from the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
Trace McSorley, Ashburn, Va. (2014-present)
Trace McSorley has started five games, and is already more than halfway to one of the best statistical seasons in program history. He’s on pace for more than 3,300 yards passing, which would surpass Matt McGloin’s single-season record of 3,271. Obviously the Nittany Lions would like to run Saquon Barkley more and rely on McSorley’s arm a little less, but he had more than 400 yards of total offense in a wild 29-26 comeback win against Minnesota last week, and proved he can provide enough offense with his arm and legs if the defense has Barkley bottled up.
Sam Hollenbach, Perkasie, Pa. (2002-06)
Sam Hollenbach was one of the lowest-rated recruits in Maryland’s 2002 recruiting haul. Between Joel Statham in his class, Ryan Mitch the following year and Jordan Steffy in 2004, Maryland recruited several players with better prep pedigrees, but Hollenbach eventually became a two-year starter and helped the Terps to nine wins and bowl victory in 2006. He’s sixth in program history with 5,134 passing yards.
Jordan Steffy, Lancaster, Pa. (2004-2008)
Jordan Steffy earned rave reviews early in his Maryland career, and then-coach Ralph Friedgen thought he had a dynamic dual-threat quarterback similar to Joe Hamilton during his time as offensive coordinator at Georgia Tech. He played as a freshman in 2004, but multiple concussions, multiple knee injuries and a broken thumb derailed his career. Steffy began the 2007 and 2008 seasons as the starter, but started only six games before season-ending injuries.
Jeremy Ricker, Harrisburg, Pa. (2006-07)
Jeremy Ricker came from a central Pennsylvania powerhouse, Bishop McDevitt High School, and might have helped relieve some of the sting from Penn State raiding Maryland and northern Virginia in 2006 for six 4-star recruits plus Evan Royster, NaVorro Bowman and Aaron Maybin. He redshirted in 2006, then asked for his release during spring practice in 2007 when he was fourth on the depth chart.
C.J. Brown, Harmony, Pa. (2009-2014)
C.J. Brown was the first of four quarterbacks to be lost to season-ending injuries in 2012, which led to Maryland turning to reserve linebacker Shawn Petty to start four games. He did appear in 10 games in 2011 and become the full-time starter in 2013 and 2014. He finished his career fourth in passing yards (5,372) and second in total offense (7,073).
Tyler Smith, Easton, Pa. (2010-11)
Tyler Smith was one of Maryland’s top recruits in the Class of 2010, but the coaching change led to his transfer. Franklin was the Maryland assistant who recruited Smith, but he left for Vanderbilt and Friedgen was replaced by Randy Edsall. Smith ended up at FCS-level Elon, but struggled with injuries.
Perry Hills, Pittsburgh (2012-present)
Hills won the starting job as a freshman after Brown’s injury and lasted six games before a season-ending knee injury of his own. He started eight games last season but struggled with turnovers and inconsistent throws, but he did run for 535 yards. He is thriving in Walt Bell’s new offense. Hills is completing 61.6 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and only one interception while directing the fastbreak spread offense and helping the Terps start the season 4-0.