STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- There wasn't much anticipation for the Big Ten freshman of the year award because, after the season-long performance by Christian Hackenberg, the choice was pretty clear.
Hackenberg officially won the award Tuesday night -- the second straight freshman-of-the-year award for PSU (Deion Barnes in 2012) -- but fans and media called this weeks ago.
Hackenberg earned five Big Ten freshman of the week awards, the most by a player since Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase in 2010, and he left little doubt as to the yearly award winner. He made visible progress every week, from the first time he won the freshman of the week award in the season opener to the last time he won that weekly award in the season finale.
Hackenberg finished the season with 2,955 yards and twice as many touchdowns (20) as interceptions (10). He completed 58.9 percent of his passes, rushed for another four scores, and led PSU to key comebacks against Michigan and Illinois.
"One of the things that has struck me about Christian since the day I met him ... is his demeanor," coach Bill O'Brien said during the season. "He's a calm guy. He's got a quiet confidence about him."
The teenager who never strayed from Penn State during unprecedented sanctions was hailed as the savior of this program before he ever set foot on campus. He enrolled over the summer, overtook Tyler Ferguson as the starter, and never looked back on his way to exceeding monstrous expectations and becoming the Big Ten's freshman of the year.
Shelton was likely the runner-up as he accounted for nearly half of his team's interceptions (four of nine) and boasted 31 tackles. He also led the Badgers with seven pass breakups and 11 deflections. Wilson ended the regular season with 869 all-purpose yards (226 rushing, 215 receiving, 428 returning), and Bosa wound up with 10.5 tackles-for-loss and 5.5 sacks.
But none of those three had quite the impact of Hackenberg, who helped PSU clinch a winning season by upsetting then-No. 15 Wisconsin. It was the first time PSU defeated a top-15 team on the road since 2008, when it upset No. 9 Ohio State.
Hackenberg had his best game in the finale, passing for 339 yards, four touchdowns and no picks. That all but cemented his status as the conference's freshman of the year.