Maybe for a long time.
Perhaps, say, as far back as 2019 in Sean Clifford’s first year – his best year – as the Penn State starting quarterback, a change was needed at the position. He’d had a good season, taking over for the near-legendary Trace McSorley, but he was overmatched the moment he stepped on the field for a late-November, high-profile college football matchup at Ohio State.
His backup, Will Levis, who eventually was thrust into action, was not.
By no means did Levis put up any numbers to write home about, either. But he belonged on the field. He was a comparable athlete to those out there on the field for the Buckeyes.
Clifford was not.
Not then, not ever.
Not even today as he precariously meanders through his fourth, and final, season directing the Nittany Lions as another bigger, stronger, more athletically gifted quarterback – freshman Drew Allar – looms behind him at No. 2 on the depth chart.
Following yet another dreadful performance – a 41-17 loss at Michigan that wasn’t even remotely as close as that blowout score would suggest – that Clifford co-authored with his teammates, especially those in the trenches who got steamrolled on both sides of the ball, that has derailed PSU’s train back to national prominence, or at least perception.
Frankly, the onus really doesn’t fall on the fifth-year senior. No, James Franklin gets all the “credit” here. Well, both he and his tag team of doom – a never-ending loyalty to a player who made the HC feel he had someone “special” at the controls AND the fear of moving on from him even after repeated confirmations that it was time to do so.
It’s not like Franklin can be killed for doing so. Clifford did show an inkling of the same leadership as McSorley displayed before him. He posted a couple of the same type of big wins, too. Heck, even his numbers are reasonably comparable to what McSorley put up in the Blue and White.
But he was never McSorley. Never had his electric moments. Never guided the Lions to a Big Ten championship like McSorley. Never had the same type of grit or determination, or at least the same type of results from those things, that McSorley did.
For almost three full years, following Clifford’s rather strong initial two months and change as the PSU starter, it almost seems like Franklin has been waiting for Clifford to capture McSorley’s magic.
He never has.
He never matched the physical skill of Levis, either, which is why Levis transferred to Kentucky two years, and now finds himself being talked about as a first-round draft pick.
He’ll never match the physical skill of Allar, either. Which is why it’s time make the switch.
Why it’s been time.
The Lions may be 5-1 now, and alive for another New Year’s bowl. But they’re mediocre, and they have been ever since that game at Ohio State back in 2019.
Clifford isn’t the only reason for that. But he has been the most glaring one. Consistently.
It’s time to move on from mediocrity.
MORE QB QUANDARY
Yeah, got it. Clemson’s DJ Uiagalelei has completely turned around his career arc this fall after an awful sophomore campaign in 2021. He’s a more accurate, assertive and confident. Blah, blah, blah. Sorry, as a fan of the program, who watches it play every week, just not buying it, and really not buying the Kirk Herbstreit-forced narrative that DJ U’s running, or willingness to run, is having some huge, positive impact on the Tigers’ offense, either.
With HC Dabo Swinney and OC Brandon Streeter so overly concerned with keeping DJ U in a “happy place,” the offense actually gets bogged down far too often. Most games, the Tigers will head into halftime with DJ U having more carries than the combined total of their running backs. Standout sophomore RB Will Shipley getting 27 touches – for 238 yards – in Saturday’s win at Florida State was a complete fluke. That needs to be the norm going forward, with less and less on the DJ U overkill. Otherwise, Clemson is not going to find itself back in the CFP this season.
Maybe Kansas HC Lance Leipold should consider those “grass is greener” Power 5 gigs he keeps at bay a little more seriously before all opportunity is lost as the Jayhawks get further into their season.
Maybe Dan Mullen wasn’t the problem at Florida after all.
Maybe North Carolina upgraded at QB with Drake Maye.
Maybe Ole Miss upgraded at QB with Jaxson Dart.
Maybe Central Florida upgraded at QB with the guy – John Rhys Plumlee – who should have been the main guy in Oxford for the last couple of years.
It’s terrific that Tennessee not only is enjoying a great season for the first time in a generation, but is being recognized for its exploits. So much so that it now gets regular attention from the national talking heads and currently stands at No. 3 in the AP poll.
The same cannot be said for fellow unbeatens Ole Miss, Texas Christian and UCLA, who check in at Nos. 7-9 in the same poll, but barely get a passing mention anywhere else. Perhaps that will change in the coming weeks as the Rebels host Alabama on Nov. 12 and Mississippi State on Thanksgiving, the Horned Frogs face Kansas State this weekend and Texas on Nov. 12, and the Bruins visit Oregon on Saturday and host Southern Cal on Nov. 19.
All of those opponents are ranked, and all have received far more accolades Ole Miss, TCU and UCLA – despite each of having an elite QB (Dart, Max Duggan and Dorian Thompson-Robinson) paired with a offensively brilliant HC (Lane Kiffin, Spike Dykes and Chip Kelly).
Not for nothing, but Illinois – one of my two schools – could find itself in the top 15 by the end of the upcoming weekend. Having jumped six spots to No. 18 following last Saturday’s smothering 26-14 win against Big Ten West favorite Minnesota, the Fighting Illini, despite being idle this week, could move up again if the Gophers rebound at No. 16 Penn State, No. 17 Kansas State loses at No. 8 TCU, and No. 14 Syracuse falls at No. 5 Clemson – one possible and two likely scenarios.
Ironically, a primary reason the Illini find themselves in this position is the play of their new starting QB for 2022, Tommy DeVito, a transfer from Syracuse.