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Penn State Preseason Top 10: No. 5 Sean Clifford

Penn State’s QB1 ushers us into the top five of the countdown.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 28 Cotton Bowl Classic - Memphis v Penn State Photo by William Purnell/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 first place vote is worth 10 points, second place is worth nine points, and so on.

How He Got Here

Sean Clifford started out on a hot streak in mop-up duty behind Trace McSorley as a redshirt freshman in 2018. He immediately impressed with his feel for the offense and accuracy, despite his lack of experience at the collegiate level.

Clifford rose to QB1 as a redshirt sophomore, following the departures of McSorley, as well as Tommy Stevens, who transferred to Mississippi State. Clifford held off Will Levis to claim the role, and never looked back.

Clifford put together a mostly outstanding season as a first-year starter, often facing off against some of the best defenses in the nation. Overall, Clifford finished with a 59.7 percent completion rate, passing for 2,634 yards with 23 touchdowns to seven interceptions. Three of those interceptions came during the loss to Minnesota, where Gophers defenders were allowed to openly tackle Penn State receivers (not that that loss still bothers me at all or anything). It was his only game with multiple interceptions. He also added 402 yards rushing (after lost yardage for sacks) and five scores on the ground.

Clifford’s overall best game of the season came against Maryland, as he led the Nittany Lions to a walloping of the Terps. In his first road start, Clifford connected on 26 of 31 attempts for 398 yards and three scores, while also rushing for 54 yards and an additional rushing touchdown. It was one of four games where Clifford was responsible for four or more touchdowns,

What to Expect in 2020

Consistency. Chemistry. Growth.

Those are the three things needed to take Clifford from good to great in 2020. At times, Clifford looked as good as any quarterback in the nation when he was hot. However, this was often followed by a quarter of several missed passes as he quickly cooled off. This is somewhat expected for a first-year starter at quarterback, especially when regularly playing against the nation’s stingiest pass defenses (five opponents finished in the top 22 passing defenses a season ago). With greater experience, Clifford should be able to avoid the hot-and-cold streaks and find more consistency — making him one of the nation’s top quarterbacks in the process.

The biggest factor for Clifford’s success in 2020 may be building greater chemistry with his wide receivers. Clifford’s close friend and favorite target KJ Hamler left early for the NFL, and now he will need to find rapport with several inexperienced receivers. Clifford will have the nation’s best tight end in Pat Freiermuth back, as well as rising star and proven commodity Jahan Dotson, but very little proven experience after that. Clifford will now be depending on Daniel George (11 career catches), Cam Sullivan-Brown (12 career receptions), and TJ Jones (no catches as a true freshman) to make a giant leap forward in 2020. If this happens, Clifford will move up this list, and more importantly, the Nittany Lions will have one of the most dangerous offenses in all of college football this fall.