Both were schoolboy stars in Virginia, though Hackenberg played at a small private school and McSorley competed at a public school power. And both made a sudden impact at PSU, Hackenberg claiming the starting job as a true frosh in 2013 and McSorley rapidly rising to No. 2 on the depth chart this preseason.
Finally -- and perhaps most importantly -- the Virginians were paired as roommates during training camp.
He's a great player, Hackenberg said after practice at University College Dublin Wednesday. He has really come in and worked hard. He was my roommate during camp, so we got to talk. He's always trying to learn.
McSorley took advantage of the learning opportunity. Classmate Michael O'Connor had a head start in the competition for the No. 2 spot after enrolling at Penn State in January, and even went through an entire spring practice.
But McSorley, who was committed to Vanderbilt when O'Connor enrolled but flipped to the Lions when James Franklin became head coach in early January, showed the staff enough after arriving in late June to claim the backup role.
Franklin insisted that it was not a clear-cut deal. It wasn't one guy just completely beat out the other guy. You could have had an argument for Michael, as well.
At the same time, however, the 6-foot, 192-pound McSorley's ability to quickly grasp the offense and take advantage of his running skills set him apart from the strong-armed O'Connor.
For a guy who only had a certain amount of reps and he was only on campus (for a short time), he picked things up mentally, Franklin said. He always seems cool, calm and collected, and confident. Made a lot of big throws. And we haven't even factored in what he brings to the game with his feet, which is a huge dimension of his game.
Another big part is more intangible. McSorley helped lead Briar Woods High in Ashburn, Va., to four straight state title games, winning three.
You guys heard me say during recruiting, he's a winner, Franklin said. And all those things you saw in recruiting, those qualities, showed up. That's not always the case. Usually you don't see it maybe for a year or so. His showed up immediately when he got on campus.
Of course, rooming with one of the best young quarterbacks in the nation during training camp probably helped that process.
He'll pick my brain, Hackenberg said. I'll pick his about whatever he may be seeing, trying to help him out in whichever way I could, whether it be understanding coverages or a rep in practice.
I love the kid. He's a great dude.