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Penn State Preseason Top 10: No. 10 Sean Clifford/Blake Gillikin (tie)

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We have a tie, folks!

NCAA FOOTBALL: NOV 26 Michigan State at Penn State Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’s time for our annual preseason top 10! Each summer, the staff votes on its top 10 players ahead of the upcoming season. A 1st place vote is worth 10 points, second place is worth nine points, and so one. Today marks the beginning of our countdown, and full voting results will be published at a later date.

SPOILER ALERT: This is not the only instance in this year’s countdown where there was a tie in our rankings. When it came to deciding on who just made the cut for the Top 10, there was a divided opinion on whether that should go to a guy who has been unexpectedly thrust into a clear starting role* or a guy who has been the most important player on special teams. In the end, both Sean Clifford and Blake Gillikin ended up getting the nod for The 10 spot.

How They Got Here

Gillikin arrived in Happy Valley as a true freshman in 2016 and immediately won the starting punting job, bringing distance and hang time to a unit that was sorely lacking in both. He averaged nearly 43 yards per punt as a freshman, which was a three-yard improvement from the previous season, which saw PSU average slightly less than 40 yards per punt. As a result, PSU found itself able to flip the field on opponents more frequently, winning the coveted field position battle in the process. One could say, it’s a slightly overlooked part of why PSU had their unexpected wildly successful 2016 season.

Despite averaging 44 yards per punt last season, Blake seemed to be plauged by inconsistency, which had the fan base scratching their collective heads. Entering his final year in a Nittany Lion uniform with a new highly-touted special teams coach in Joe Lorig managing this unit, the senior punter will seek to turn things around and end his PSU career on a high note.

Clifford arrived in 2017 as a blue-chip quarterback prospect out of Ohio. He was the first player of the 2017 class to verbally commit to the Nittany Lions all the way back in the Summer of 2015 and never wavered throughout. In fact, he was widely regarded as the ringleader in helping to recruit other members of the class. This natural leadership ability of his was reportedly on display shortly after Tommy Stevens’ sudden departure from the program, when it became abundantly clear that he would now have to take the reins as the main man at QB. According to Micah Parsons, Sean got up during the first team meeting following Tommy’s departure and claimed that there would be no drop-off at the QB position.

What To Expect In 2019

With a new special teams coach in Joe Lorig seemingly breathing life into the special teams and with Blake himself seeking to exorcise the demons that plagued his junior season, look for him to have a bounce-back year and become that guy who can help pin opponents deep in their own territory, giving Brent Pry’s defensive unit an opportunity to force a turnover which in turn, can set up the offense with a short field, or even lead to a defensive score.

Clifford had a very good spring, and looked solid in the Blue-White Game, showing pinpoint accuracy to go with a strong arm. He may not have the running abilities of Trace McSorley or Tommy Stevens, but he is far from a statue, showing an ability to scramble out of trouble and pick up yards on the ground during the Blue-White Game. It’s not hard to envision him making opponents pay for underestimating his ability to tuck and run, when necessary.

Clifford will also have a plethora of weapons to spread the rock to, with a running back platoon of Ricky Slade/Noah Cain/Journey Brown/possibly even Devyn Ford to go along with a huge target in Pat Freiermuth at tight end, along with KJ Hamler, Jahan Dotson, Daniel George, and Justin Shorter at receiver. If the offensive line can be serviceable at the very least, and if second-year offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne is able to gameplan around his strengths, the sky may be the limit for him.