We are Koerbler PR firm are astounded with how the season has gone: 3-0! Three-and-oh! Who woulda thought we’d be here? Not me. And the best part: Penn State doesn’t appear close to its peak. From the defense to the offense, this team seems like it’s just scratching the surface of what it can become. As we said last week, that’s not entirely good for business here since a large premise of this article is to spin things into a positive, but you know what: we’ll take the wins.
Here on the blog, we’ve rightfully spent the last few days talking about what this win means for Penn State for the rest of the season. But my takeaway from Saturday is more about the big picture view of the sport: college football needs to do more to incentivize home-and-homes.
Saturday was everything college football should be about. We spend so much time talking about the BCS, the College Football Playoff, and the future expansion of the postseason, that it can be easy to forget that what makes (and made!) college football great is its regular season. Yes, bowl and playoff games are important, but the week-in and week-out challenge of the college football regular season is what has captivated so many of us. Every single game matters if a championship is the goal, whether it’s an in-conference or out-of-conference matchup.
When I think back on some of my earliest college football memories, some of those massive out-of-conference matchups are what pop into my head almost instantaneously. Ohio State and Texas. Miami and Florida. Notre Dame and Michigan. And even for Penn State, I remember being pumped (yes, I lived a sad childhood) for games against Boston College and Virginia because those games felt big, even if they were somewhat mediocre Power 5 programs.
As I drove into State College on Saturday morning, that similar feeling came back to me. Except this wasn’t a mid-tier ACC school with a blasé football tradition, it was a big time SEC school that literally celebrates football victories by throwing toilet paper on a tree. And I have to give credit to Auburn — they traveled well. I was at Pickle’s from about 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. on Saturday, and it’s fair to say that Auburn fans outnumbered Penn State fans 60/40 during that timeframe. Now granted, I didn’t see a whole lot of orange up at the tailgates — I am guessing most Auburn fans just stayed downtown for their pre-game — but it was quite impressive to see that many opposing fans in State College. It certainly isn’t like that for Ohio State or Michigan — but that’s kind of my point here. As fun as the Ohio State or Michigan weekends are, this was different. This was unique. Yes, I wanted Penn State to win very badly, but the atmosphere felt more like a celebration of just how incredibly awesome college football is than anything else.
Two schools and fan bases who essentially have no history together coming together to be the center of college football universe for one weekend — that’s what separates college football from everything else. So whether it’s through the playoff expansion or something else, I hope college football reverts back to the time when these types of matchups were normal because Saturday was the postcard for what college football should be.
2. Sean Clifford
Listen, Penn State fans had every right to be critical of Sean Clifford’s play last season. I imagine from Clifford’s own admission, he was not the quarterback he needed to be last season. But that being said, those of us who were critical — myself included, clearly, as I wrote a weekly QB Transfer Portal article last season — need to have a big heaping, steaming pile of crow because Cliff was awesome on Saturday. 28-for-32 for 282 yards and two touchdowns, and as Ben Jones pointed out, he was marvelous in the second half.
Sean Clifford didn't throw an incomplete pass in the second half. Went 12-for-12. Half those passes went for first downs.— Ben Jones (@Ben_Jones88) September 19, 2021
It’s nice when the stats back up what the eyes are seeing, because even for those of us who were at the game and weren’t privy to stats, it was clear that Clifford was playing at another level. He was calm in the pocket. His footwork looked much cleaner. He was going through progressions. And with all that being the case, he *looked* confident. Clifford has never been shy about saying how confident he is, but throughout his career at Penn State, that confidence hasn’t always followed into the game. On Saturday, it certainly did. Had Auburn tied that ballgame up, I had the confidence that Cliff would lead a game-winning drive — something that didn’t seem possible if we went back to the 2020 Nebraska game.
Given everything that happened last season and just how big Saturday’s game was, that was far-and-away Clifford’s best performance in a Penn State uniform. There are still many tests to come for Clifford, but respect to #14. Of course James Franklin and Penn State stayed loyal to him by not bringing in a transfer QB, but Clifford deserves props for sticking with this program too. In the era of the transfer portal and QB movement, a lot of QBs in Clifford’s position would have looked for a fresh start elsewhere. Fortunately for Penn State, Clifford stayed loyal, and it’s paying off for both sides right now.