With the news on Friday that Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford will return for a sixth year, Penn State fans could breathe a huge sigh of relief.
That’s not to say every single fan was enamored with the QB’s play, or how the offense has looked the last couple seasons, but there’s no denying that Clifford will bring a much-needed sense of stability to the quarterback room.
Let’s start with the fact that Will Levis portaled out after the 2020 season to Kentucky, and then think about how the Lions may have done against Iowa and Illinois if Levis had stayed at Penn State, rather than trying out greener pastures. Would the Lions have won both games? Who knows! But without Levis, Penn State was forced to play Ta’Quan Roberson against Iowa, who folded under the Kinnick pressure; without Levis, Penn State was forced to play Sean Clifford when he was clearly nowhere near 100% against Illinois.
Having a deep QB room is vital in college football, but it’s also becoming harder to do in the Time of the Portal™.
Now, let’s consider next year. Behind Sean Clifford - he of the 6 years of collegiate experience, and 3 years of starting experience - the Lions are most likely looking at Christian Veilleux as the #2 QB. This is assuming that Roberson transfers out after being surpassed by Veilleux. Christian performed admirably against Rutgers in a 28-0 win, but bear in mind that it was against Rutgers. CV will be a redshirt freshman next year, which isn’t a ton of experience. If Clifford left, would you feel 100% comfortable knowing that the most experienced QB on the roster is a RS freshman?
Then let’s look at the incoming recruits. Drew Allar and Beau Pribula are both well-rated recruits, but again - they’re going to be true freshmen. Do you want the QB room to be solely comprised of freshmen? I sure don’t. Also consider that both Pribula and Allar have said that they’re excited to learn from Clifford, and it sure seems like Sean sticking around is the best bet for everyone.
And lastly, lest we forget, this is most likely the best option for Sean Clifford himself. The Big Red Dog has had three different offensive coordinators as a starter - Ricky Rahne in 2019, Kirk Ciarrocca in 2020, and now Mike Yurcich in 2021. His performance has been up and down, due in part to some less-than-stellar offensive line play, as well as having to constantly learn new offensive systems. Right now, he very well may go undrafted. Another year with Yurcich, where the entire offensive side of the ball can have some consistency, and Clifford - in my humble opinion - should be able to play his way into a draftable position, perhaps even a 2nd or 3rd round prospect.
So yes, Sean Clifford returning is the best for everyone. Penn State doesn’t have to worry about relying on a trio of freshmen at quarterback, the young guys can learn behind a savvy veteran, and Clifford himself can experience some consistency and hopefully play his way into a nice draft prospect.
Will Clifford start next year? Who knows! It’s possible that one of the young guns outplays him and gets the nod. It’s also possible that Sean suffers another injury that keeps him out for a game or two, and someone grabs the reins from him. But no matter how you slice it, Clifford returning is the best for all parties involved.
I’m excited to see how the QB position unfolds into 2022.