Blue White Illustrated

December 2021

Penn State Sports Magazine

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6 6 D E C E M B E R 2 0 2 1 W W W . B L U E W H I T E O N L I N E . C O M T he biggest question Penn State will face at the end of the 2021 season revolves around James Franklin. After eight seasons, will he stay with the Nittany Lions, or will a job at LSU, USC or somewhere else lure him away from State College? Once that is resolved, the program can move on to answering its second-big- gest question of the offseason: Who will the starting quarterback be in 2022? Penn State has not yet finished its lat- est season, of course, so if you think this conversation is starting too early, you might be right. Then again, the college football news and decision-making cycle has hit warp speed. Think about it: Multiple coaches were fired right around the midway point of the season so that schools could have their replacement in place before the December signing period. In one case, a school actually hired a coach be- fore the season even ended, with Baylor assistant Joey McGuire leaving the Bears in early November to take the open job at Texas Tech. And the same can be said about the daily transfer portal announcements being made by players across the coun- try. It's a never-ending stream of things happening sooner than normal, and it won't stop anytime soon. Quarterbacks who are looking for a new home are almost always the most prominent names that end up being publicly revealed; either the player states it himself or the media finds out and reports it. That's why this conversation is relevant to the topic of Penn State's future under center. From this point of view, PSU has a few options at this early juncture. Sean Clifford could come back for a sixth season, taking advantage of the free year of eligibility at his disposal thanks to the NCAA's decision to grant it to everyone because of the pandemic. If Clifford doesn't return, one of the current backups, Ta'Quan Roberson or Christian Veilleux, might win the job. Roberson will be a redshirt junior next year, while Veilleux will be a redshirt freshman. Or the Lions might choose one of the options behind door number three: a pair of four-star recruits in the class of 2022, Drew Allar of Medina, Ohio, and Beau Pribula of York, Pa. Both are ex- pected to sign in December and enroll in January. One final possibility would be for the Lions to land a passer from the transfer portal who can actually compete for the starting job at a top Big Ten program. Let's break down the pros and cons of each option, bearing in mind the very obvious caveat that Franklin's exit, and that of offensive coordinator Mike Yur- cich, could render this all irrelevant: • Clifford returns: In this scenario, Penn State would have one of college football's most experienced quarter- backs in 2022. His strengths and weak- nesses are well known, and his leader- ship is unmatched. But does he really want to go through the grind of a sixth season? And is it best for the Lions to have him do so? • A backup takes over: Roberson clearly needs to take a huge step forward to have any chance of starting at this level. Maybe earning the most mean- ingful practice and game reps of his ca- reer this year could change that. The jury is still out on Veilleux, but he would need to progress rapidly, as well, to win the job. Ideally, you would like a guy with Roberson's tenure at Penn State to be ready to go at that point in his career. It's difficult to have much confidence in that happening based on what we've seen so far. • A freshman wins the job: There is a segment of the fan base that feels certain Allar can step in and be a Big Ten QB1 from day one. Perhaps he can, but it's a tough ask. Over the long haul, don't rule out Pribula, either. It's not crazy to imagine one of those guys winning the spot. But it's hardly guaranteed, and there's also the risk that rushing one of them into action could hinder his long-term develop- ment. • The portal brings a contender: Transfers can make a big impact on the field but could also upset a position group and locker room overall. Finding the perfect fit is a must, which makes this an extremely difficult task. You're stuck in a bad spot if the chosen guy doesn't work out and the others feel alienated and move on. It's a tightrope walk. With all that said, a fascinating and potentially transformative time is nearly at hand for the Penn State football pro- gram. While I believe, as of now, that the Lions will have the same coach next year, it's hard to envision them having the same quarterback. Continuity is key in college football, but change can be good, too. Assuming Franklin does stick around, how he and his staff attack perhaps the most pressing question of their tenure will go a long way toward shaping not just the 2022 season but also many of the ones that follow it. That's why talk- ing about this decision now shouldn't feel strange at all. ■ O P I N I O N GREG PICKEL A Fateful Decision Awaits Lions In Offseason THE LAST WORD If Sean Clifford leaves, Ta'Quan Roberson (2) will be the Nittany Lions' most experienced returning quarterback. Roberson will be a redshirt junior next season. PHOTO BY STEVE MANUEL

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