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Penn State’s Quarterback Problem

With what was likely the last ranked matchup of the regular season behind it, Penn State football has a decision to make.

It’s a decision that’s loomed large over James Franklin all season and one that’s just now coming to a head. Who should get the reigns at quarterback?

Franklin remained unwavering in his support for incumbent sixth-year gunslinger Sean Clifford all year. Until he turned the ball over four times against Ohio State, that is. Now, as the head coach suggested at his Tuesday press conference, things aren’t so cut and dry.

“We’re going to look at who gives us the best chance to be 1-0 this week and go from there,” Franklin said. “Whoever that is, based on this week’s practice and preparation, we’ll go with.”

True freshman Drew Allar, the former No. 1-ranked quarterback, looms large behind Clifford. Franklin will have to choose between sticking to his past “loyal to a fault” approach or turning the page on Clifford and looking to the future.

The Case For Clifford

The main argument for sticking with the veteran assumes that he can lead Penn State to a 10-2 season.

We know exactly who Clifford is at this point. He’s hit his ceiling as a college quarterback, and he’s not quite good enough to beat the Ohio States of the world. But, he is good enough to beat the Indianas, Marylands, Rutgers’, and the Michigan States of the world.

As a starter, Clifford is 9-3 against the remaining teams on the Nittany Lions’ schedule. The Terrapins are having a strong year but, as long as Penn State remains focused (easier said than done), Clifford should be able to lead the Nittany Lions to a 10-2 season. This should still generate a New Year’s Six Bowl berth.

This wouldn’t be as much of a shoo-in with Allar as it would be with Clifford.

It’s tough that Penn State couldn’t take care of Michigan and Ohio State again. It’s tough still being in tier two of the Big Ten East. But, the Nittany Lions are just 17-13 since winning the Cotton Bowl in 2019. Franklin and the rest of Nittany Nation want to be elite, but it’s hard to say Penn State has even been good the last three seasons.

Finishing off a stabilizing 2022 season under Clifford, and becoming a great program again, could be a wise, albeit timid, approach. From there, Franklin could worry about making the jump to elite under Allar in the next few years.

Clifford gives Penn State the most sure-fire shot at winning out the rest of the season and cruising to a big-ticket bowl game. Throwing Allar to the wolves, or the Hoosiers, wouldn’t be the best way to avoid the pesky and unnecessary losses Franklin has suffered in recent years.

The Case For Allar

Due to his large body of work, Clifford is the safest option for Penn State if it wants to win out. But, we’re not so sure that Allar couldn’t achieve the same feat.

Through the limited time we’ve seen Allar, mostly surrounded by reserve players, we can conjecture what he still needs to improve on. It’s hard to confidently say he even has a weakness besides inexperience at this point.

His highly touted cannon arm might still be a bit unwieldy. His decision-making might not be completely fine-tuned. He might still be a bit too timid in the huddle. Only those in the Lasch Building know for sure.

“A lot of it is a rep thing with him,” Franklin said the week of the Central Michigan game. “He needs to gain as much experience as possible…practice reps and game reps and experience.”

If it’s a rep thing, now would be the time to get those reps in. Clifford was Penn State’s best shot to beat Ohio State and Michigan, but the door is now shut on winning a Big Ten Championship. Giving Allar three or four starts against Big Ten opponents, including two on the road, would be invaluable experience. Planning for the future is paramount.

Franklin has a bad history of poorly managing, developing, and retaining quarterback talent. Christian Hackenberg seemingly regressed under his leadership. Tommy Stevens transferred away after Trace McSorley hogged all the snaps in 2018. Will Levis sat behind Clifford and is a projected first-round NFL Draft pick after transferring to Kentucky.

Allar not reaching his five-star potential because Franklin wanted Clifford to go out on a high note would be nothing short of disastrous for the program.

Another thing to consider is that Penn State could still go 10-2 with Allar starting — at the expense of loyalty to Clifford. This would be the ideal scenario. The Nittany Lions would get their New Year’s Six Bowl, reclaim some national relevance, and get meaningful reps for their prodigy quarterback.

Clifford is the safest route to 10 wins, but no one is doubting that Allar couldn’t achieve the same goal. The defense is lock-down, the run game is more than serviceable, and the offensive line, albeit banged up, has done a solid job at protecting the quarterback all season. He would be put in a position to thrive with a good team around him.

Besides, the Nittany Lions still hung around with Ohio State despite Clifford throwing two interceptions in his first two possessions.

It Might Not Be So Black And White

While it would make things less stressful if either Allar or Clifford were simply handed the reigns for the rest of the season, it likely won’t play out that simply.

Penn State could opt to give the true freshman an influx of meaningful snaps in the first half. The offense could rotate quarterbacks, or Clifford could have an incredibly short leash. This wouldn’t be in the best interest of performing at a high level, but it could be a resourceful way to get the best of both worlds.

You can probably count on Clifford starting the last game of the regular season against Michigan State, but purely because it’s Senior Day. If this is the case, why not give Allar a full game against Rutgers or Indiana and see how he does?

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About the Author

Ryan Parsons

Ryan is a redshirt senior majoring in business and journalism from "Philadelphia" and mostly writes about football nowadays. You can follow him on Twitter @rjparsons9 or say hi via email at [email protected]

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