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PFF Disrespects Sean Clifford With Brutally Low No. 88 Ranking Among College QBs

No summer would be complete without a flurry of preseason rankings, hype, and speculation surrounding the fast-approaching college football season.

Now, keep in mind that it’s only July, and college football has yet to be played this year. Right now, that’s all we have at the moment: hype and speculation.

Pro Football Focus is one of the several outlets that leads the charge on this front. The college football and draft analysis website came out with its ranking of all 130 FBS starting quarterbacks Monday afternoon, and Penn State’s Sean Clifford landed all the way back at No. 88.

PFF had the Nittany Lion in the “tier five” section of the rankings, which was labeled as “needs to improve/more reps.” Clifford landed between UCLA’s Dorian Thompson-Robinson and Troy’s duo of Gunnar Watson and Taylor Powell. He was also the No. 10 Big Ten signal-caller in the rankings, coming in ahead of just Rutgers’ Noah Vedral, Illinois’ Brandon Peters, Iowa’s Spencer Petras, and Northwestern’s Ryan Hilinski.

It’s not a stretch to say Clifford struggled mightily in 2020, but a No. 88 overall ranking still feels wildly disrespectful to a redshirt senior who’s entering his third season as a starter.

First of all, there was an endless number of variables that seriously hindered Clifford and the rest of Penn State’s offense last fall. Already dealing with a strange, delayed (thanks, Big Ten) COVID-19-affected season, the Nittany Lions were without their two top rushers in Journey Brown and Noah Cain. Star tight end Pat Freiermuth also missed the last four games of the year with a shoulder injury he’d been dealing with since the week two loss to Ohio State.

Clifford was without three talents who were expected to be key parts of Penn State’s offense for much of the season. Outside of Jahan Dotson and Devyn Ford, he was largely surrounded by first-year college football players playing an all-Big Ten slate.

PFF’s tier five definition also states that the quarterbacks in the group “likely aren’t leading explosive offenses in 2021.” All things considered, it just isn’t fair to claim Penn State’s offense “likely” won’t be explosive in 2021.

Dotson, Clifford’s clear-cut favorite target in 2020, is expected to be one of the best receivers in the nation after his breakout campaign. He was met with plenty of excitement from Nittany Lion fans after announcing in January he’d return to Happy Valley for his senior season, and for good reason. Dotson was dominant throughout 2020, hauling in 52 catches for 884 yards and eight scores in just nine games.

Outside of the seasoned wideout, Clifford also gets to throw to budding talents Parker Washington and KeAndre Lambert-Smith. The pair of true freshmen each had triple-digit receiving yards on the season, while Washington scored six touchdowns.

Now pair that with talented young tight ends Brenton Strange and Theo Johnson, several running backs with valuable experience, and a new exciting offensive coordinator in Mike Yurcich. It’s hard to imagine Clifford and the Nittany Lions’ weapons won’t find some kind of explosiveness on that side of the ball.

When Clifford does have healthy, experienced players alongside him, he can flourish. In his first year starting, the Ohio native found plenty of success with KJ Hamler and Freiermuth, as he launched 2,654 passing yards worth 23 touchdowns. He also threw just seven interceptions that season compared to nine in three fewer games last fall.

Penn State needs its quarterback play to be better if it wants to win in 2021. This past fall was a disappointment, but that’s way too much of a skewed and small sample size to judge Clifford on, especially considering what he did in 2019.

A No. 88 ranking is not indicative of the quarterback’s body of work in Happy Valley up to this point, and it doesn’t take into account what Penn State’s offense could be capable of this fall.

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About the Author

Will Pegler

Will is a senior majoring in digital and print journalism and is an associate editor for Onward State. He is from Darien, Connecticut and is a lifelong Penn State football fan. He loves a good 80's comedy movie, Peaky Blinders, The Office, and the New York Yankees and Giants. You can catch some of his ridiculous sports takes on his Twitter @gritdude and yell at him on his email [email protected]

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