In 2022, Penn State had the luxury of keeping its heir apparent at quarterback - Drew Allar - mostly on the sidelines, as its 7th year, super-duper-senior, 4th year starter Sean Clifford took the reins of the offense one last time.
This would turn out to be the first leg up given to Allar over other Penn State QBs in the past.
The most direct comparison I can make to Allar’s pedigree would be Christian Hackenberg, who came in as a true freshman, and became the starter from game one. While he played quite well - freshman bumps aside - there was no viable depth ahead of (or behind) him; he HAD to be the guy from the start.
Not so with Drew, who got to spend the majority of 2022 with a clean jersey on, only coming for mop up duty (or the occasional doody as well). This means that his body has already avoided a full year of hits, sacks, hurries, hands to the face, defenders at his feet, etc. On top of that, he’s had a full year to learn the offense, and while that offense will surely evolve based on his skills vs. his predecessor’s, the main tenets will remain the same.
Suffice to say, Allar - and Penn State - are in perhaps the best situation possible heading into the 2023 season.
Which is why the other leg up that Allar has is perhaps even better: unlike Hackenberg, Drew actually has talent around him.
I mean no disrespect to the Lions offense of 2013 - they were hamstrung by sanctions, and all are to be commended for the effort they put into the team to be competitive, including wins over #18 Michigan (in 4OT) and #14 Wisconsin.
But the roster under James Franklin in the ensuing 10 years has grown by leaps and bounds, perhaps improving more than any other team in that same span.
Let’s start up front, where Penn State’s OL is actually expected to be solid, with returning starters LT Olu Fashanu, LG Landon Tengwall, RG Sal Wormley, and RT Caedan Wallace. Even the new C Hunter Nourzad played with the Lions last year at guard.
Then let’s look at the running back room, which features the 1-2 punch of Kaytron Allen and Nicholas Singleton. Add in key depth with Trey Potts, and the Lions could seriously consider not passing the ball and still be fine on offense.
The “question mark” on offense comes from the receiving corps. Theo Johnson and Tyler Warren return at TE, so that question is answered. It simply becomes a question of whether the plethora of wide receivers can pan out. Here is the menu of options, as it stands right now:
- Dante Cephas, RS SR, 0.92-rated 4-star transfer
- Omari Evans, SO, 0.88-rated 3-star recruit
- Malick Meiga, RS JR, 0.87-rated 3-star recruit
- Harrison “Trey” Wallace III, RS SO, 0.88-rated 3-star recruit
- Malik McClain, JR, 0.89-rated 4-star transfer
- Tyler Johnson, RS FR, 0.88-rated 3-star recruit
- KeAndre “KLS” Lambert-Smith, SR, 0.92-rated 4-star recruit
- Liam “Lil Cliff” Clifford, RS SO, 0.88-rated 3-star recruit
- Kaden Saunders, RS FR, 0.98-rated 4-star recruit
- Cristian Driver, RS FR, 0.91-rated 4-star recruit
That’s 10 players with a rating no lower than 0.87 competing for three starting gigs. Given that one of the lowest-rated recruits in that list - Trey Wallace - has more or less locked up one of the positions and generally outperformed his high school ranking, and KLS is cemented in place as well, you really just need to see one or two players really step up to fully assemble a dynamic passing attack.
All of this to say, Drew Allar doesn’t need to be superman for the Lions. Penn State doesn’t need him to throw with 90%+ accuracy, or bail them out of every situation. They can - and should - very happily rely on all of the pieces around him to continue to bring him fully up to speed, and expound on the early opportunity he had to rest and learn in 2022.
That being said, given his easing into college football, and the abundance of talent around him, I also wouldn’t be shocked if he takes the Lions offense to a level not seen since 2017.
In essence, Penn State has done everything possible to help Drew Allar go from highly touted recruit to starter on what should be an extremely potent offense. Now it’s time to see if all of that prep work will pay off.