Early positional outlook: How the Penn State QBs break down

It is a rarity in college football to have the same starting quarterback for four consecutive seasons. Yet, in these unprecedented times, that will likely be the case for Penn State in 2022. The return of Sean Clifford in 2022 provides the Penn State offense with an experienced starter in an offense that will be looking to retool a few things on the ground and replace its leading receiver. Having a player who has been through the ups and downs of the offense could be encouraging, but the big question may be whether or not Clifford is merely standing in the way of the future.

Penn State’s quarterback situation is a unique one for the 2022 season and one that will surely be under the microscope every step of the way this offseason, beginning with spring football practices. And, for the first time in a long time, Penn State will be able to go into the spring with the same offensive coordinator and quarterback coach from the previous season. Mike Yurcich left some expectations unfulfilled in his first season with the Nittany Lions, but having a chance to work issues that arose in 2021 may be beneficial for Yurcich, Clifford, and the entire Penn State offense.

The return of Sean Clifford

Photo: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Prior to the Outback Bowl, with players across Penn State’s roster declaring for an early departure to the NFL, Clifford announced he would be coming back for one final season, his sixth in Happy Valley. Clifford is one of the players taking advantage of an extra year of eligibility granted to every student-athlete by the NCAA as a result of the 2020 pandemic season. And it is probably a wise decision for Clifford to come back for another year.

Clifford got off to a more confident start to his 2021 season after an abysmal start to the 2020 season. Clifford cut down on turnovers and wasn’t forcing plays that weren’t there, which cost him in the two previous seasons and were prominent in games lost by the Nittany Lions. But a road trip to Iowa saw Clifford get banged up bad enough to take him out of the game, which ultimately changed the entire script for the game and turned a 17-3 advantage into a heartbreaking loss with a stale offense without Clifford on the field.

Clifford didn’t look great for the rest of the season. The offense was inconsistent with Clifford at quarterback, and the bowl game loss to Arkansas may have been the worst game played by Clifford all season long (outside of the Illinois debacle). With that being the case, it makes all the sense in the world for Clifford to want to come back, work with the same coordinator and QB coach for a second straight season, and see if he can make the changes necessary to not only improve Penn State’s chances of winning more games, but also potentially get him into the NFL draft conversation.

Most college coaches would love to have a four-year starter at quarterback, and James Franklin will likely embrace this situation as much as possible. But the return of Clifford could hold back the next top quarterback at Penn State from being able to do his thing.

Drew Allar, QB of the future… or now?

Photo: Akron Beacon Journal

Once upon a time in college football, the notion of playing a true freshman or even a redshirt freshman at quarterback was practically unheard of. At least, it was at Penn State. But the game is different today, and young quarterbacks have been getting their chances to dazzle earlier than ever. And given his pedigree coming off the recruiting trail, Drew Allar looks like the kind of player any team would want to get on the field as soon as possible.

This is why things will be interesting at Penn State.

While having an experienced quarterback like Clifford is typically considered a luxury, many Penn State fans feel as though they have seen everything they will see out of Clifford. And that could lead to vocal rumbles for Allar to get on the field if things stumble on offense under Clifford. This is far from an easy position for James Franklin to be in, especially given how much of a players coach he is known and respected to be.

But Allar could be the real deal. The top player in the state of Ohio and one of the top-rated passers in the Class of 2022 looks to have an incredibly bright future in front of him. And if Clifford does struggle or is injured, how soon will Franklin feel comfortable throwing Allar into the mix?

Who is missing?

Photo: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Not surprisingly, Penn State did lose a quarterback through the transfer portal this offseason. This was to be expected with Clifford announcing his return and Penn State signing one of the top passers in the Class of 2022 with Drew Allar. And given how the events of the 2021 season unfolded, it was far from shocking to see Ta’Quan Roberson decide to throw his name into the NCAA transfer portal database and ultimately commit to another program.

Roberson has joined the UConn football program, now under new head coach Jim Mora. At UConn, Roberson figures to have a real chance to win a starting role leading the Huskies, and perhaps may have a chance to redeem himself. Roberson was thrown into a tough spot in his only significant playing time during the 2021 season when he was tasked with replacing an injured Clifford on the road against a feisty Iowa defense that had been picking off opponents left and right. Roberson’s performance against Iowa was incredibly discouraging, but there is no disputing that was an incredibly challenging spot to be thrown into.

Later in the season, against Rutgers, it was notable Roberson did not get to see the field in relief of a once-again injured Clifford. Instead, it was Christian Veilleux who stepped in to lead the Penn State offense.

Speaking of Veilleux…

Where does Veilleux fit in?

Photo: Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Without question, the big quarterback storyline this spring and summer will focus on the experienced veteran Clifford and the top recruit Allar. But what about Christian Veilleux?

Veilleux got the call off the sideline to replace an injured Clifford in a late regular season game against Rutgers, and he looked impressive, albeit against Rutgers. But considering what Penn State fans saw earlier in the year from one backup quarterback, seeing what Veilleux was able to do was encouraging and had some fans suggesting Veilleux should have played against Iowa. Franklin had a logical explanation for not playing Veilleux against Iowa earlier in the year, but it still goes down as a decent “what if” question for the 2021 season.

Veilleux could be stuck in the most uncomfortable positions, and it could actually be one that creates a path to the transfer portal at some point as well. Veilleux doesn’t have the experience Clifford offers, and Allar is supposed to have the higher upside potential, even though Veilleux was a solid recruit for Penn State as well.

If Penn State manages to keep Veilleux on the roster, it would be a great benefit. That way Penn State could have a solid backup option ready at any point during the season while allowing more time to properly develop and refine Allar for a similar role.

Penn State may not have the best quarterback situation heading into the 2022 season (Alabama has a Heisman Trophy winner coming back after all), but you may be hard-pressed to find a more intriguing offseason quarterback storyline in college football, if not just the Big Ten.


Big board: Penn State's 2022 football recruiting class by position


Transfer portal: TaQuan Roberson officially joins UConn Huskies

Sean Clifford announces his decision on his future at Penn State

Penn State Class of 2022 QB Drew Allar named Mr. Football in Ohio

Can Drew Allar be the next best Penn State quarterback?

James Franklin explains why Christian Veilleux didn't play against Iowa

Even after loss to Michigan, Sean Clifford deserves your respect

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