Anatomy of a position group: The quarterbacks
Starting this week, Blue White Illustrated will begin a new series breaking down each Penn State position group and how it was constructed, also touching on its outlook ahead of the 2021 season and looking further forward. We kick things off with Penn State's quarterback unit.
Penn State has signed seven scholarship quarterbacks since 2016, but only three of those players remain on the roster.
That position was particularly hard-hit by transfer exits over the offseason, with two scholarship quarterbacks making their way out the door.
Will Levis, who started once last season and was a key contributor to Penn State's run game, left for Kentucky.
Additionally, Micah Bowens used the transfer portal to find a new home — Oklahoma. Michael Johnson Jr. also announced his destination in December — FAU — about six months after entering the portal.
As a result, the Nittany Lions have just two inexperienced scholarship quarterbacks behind Clifford on their roster — a number head coach James Franklin admitted this spring is not optimal.
"I don't think you're ever comfortable at that position until those guys have gotten game reps," Franklin said this spring. "Obviously, the practice reps are critical and very, very important. But having guys that don't have game reps and haven't played critical game reps at significant moments, you're never completely comfortable because you never know how guys are going to react when they get in there."
Franklin has toyed publicly with the idea of adding a transfer at the position, but the right fit hasn't emerged.
That means that, despite struggling at times last season, Clifford enters the 2021 season as Penn State's presumptive starter, without much in the way of a safety net behind him.
Christian Veilleux, who arrived as an early enrollee in the winter, and Ta'Quan Roberson, who has yet to take a meaningful snap at the college level, are Penn State's two men waiting in the reserves should Clifford falter or suffer an injury.
"We want to feel like we could put those guys in a game and win with them, based on what they do in practice," Franklin said this spring. "There's still a lot of time between now and next season for them to do that, so that's going to be the emphasis in meetings and practices and in scrimmages and those kinds of things."
Penn State's quarterback cupboard should get replenished in the offseason, with two talented freshman arms currently committed to join the Class of 2022.
Beau Pribula, a four-star, and Drew Allar, who could well earn his fourth star upon the next Rivals update, will both suit up in the blue and white next season, barring something unforeseen.
Still, the dynamic of the quarterback room could hinge on whether or not Clifford chooses to return for one final season.
That might not be the most likely scenario, though, as Erik Galko — Director of Operations for the East-West Shrine Bowl — pointed out when speaking to BWI's Nate Bauer earlier this summer.
"If you're a 24-year old rookie in the NFL, there's not a great track record of those guys getting a lot better. So I would say that while it's tempting for a lot of players, I would not expect nor advise players that are saying, 'If I come back to school, I may go around higher,’ because you might not because you're going to be a year older. That's kind of the rub.”
So, if Clifford does opt to move on instead of spending a sixth year in Happy Valley, where does that leave the Nittany Lions?
Assuming Clifford gets the lion's share of the playing time this season, Penn State won't have an experienced option entering 2022. In that scenario, it's possible that Franklin and company would venture into the transfer market.
Otherwise, things look wide open.
• Talk about this article inside The Lions Den
• Watch our videos and subscribe to our YouTube channel
• Learn more about our print and digital publication, Blue-White Illustrated
• Follow us on Instagram
• Like us on Facebook