Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford announced Friday that he will return to the Nittany Lions for his sixth season after starting for coach James Franklin’s crew for the previous three. Clifford, a redshirt senior this year, will take advantage of the free year of eligibility the NCAA provided to all athletes during the COVID-19 pandemic year of 2020 and be a redshirt senior again in 2022. Clifford made the announcement on his Twitter account.
“I will be returning to Penn State to play one more season in the Blue & White,” he wrote. “I could not pass up the chance to be with this family and play the game I love again. The opportunity to play alongside my brother, Liam, and the rest of my brothers on this team made this decision easy.”
Clifford has thrown for 7,644 yards and 61 touchdowns during four seasons. He played four games and took a redshirt in 2018 before taking over for Trace McSorley full-time starting in 2019. He battled through multiple injuries to throw for 2,912 yards and 20 touchdowns, with only six interceptions. He also added 123 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
“Penn State is more than football for me,” he wrote. “It is family. My teammates, coach Franklin, the staff and the community have shaped me into the man I am today and I am forever grateful. I am beyond thankful for the support system I have back home, as my mom, dad and brother have stood by me every step of the way.”
So what does this mean for Clifford and Penn State? Let’s take a look.
Stability within transition
Wide receiver Jahan Dotson was essentially Penn State’s only dynamic play-maker in 2021. Dotson, a senior, will be out the door, leaving a massive hole for a No. 1 receiver to fill. The obvious option would be Parker Washington, who had 722 yards and four touchdowns alongside Dotson during the regular season. Clifford didn’t get much help from his running game in 2021, though, as Penn State didn’t have a single player with more than 500 yards during the regular season.
Clifford’s return won’t make the Nittany Lions an offensive juggernaut, but he will provide stability as new playmakers are broken in.
Familiarity with the offense
Mike Yurcich will return as Penn State’s offensive coordinator for his second season, which will mark the first time in Clifford’s starting career that he will have the same offensive coordinator for more than one season. That is a big deal for a team that is looking to get back into the mix in the Big Ten East.
Instead of digging deep into the playbook in the offseason, Clifford will be able to devote more attention to ensuring that the rest of the offense is on the same page going into the season. Essentially, he will be able to double as an assistant coach on the field. Don’t be surprised if that includes the ability to change plays at the line of scrimmage.
Penn State will be relevant
Michigan is set to face Georgia in a national semifinal as the Big Ten champions, and Ohio State will get Heisman Trophy finalist C.J. Stroud back to run Ryan Day’s offense. Those two things alone will likely relegate Penn State back to No. 3 in the Big Ten East in next season’s prognostications. Clifford’s return at least gives the Nittany Lions a puncher’s chance.
They have a road trip to Auburn in Week 3, a home game vs. Ohio State in the first week of October and a road trip to Michigan the following week. Clifford hasn’t exactly been a superstar, but it’s much more likely that the Nittany Lions can get into the back end of the schedule with a chance at the College Football Playoff than it would be with a new starter under center.
The Nittany Lions will square off with Arkansas in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1, 2022, and begin the 2022 season with a road game against Big Ten foe Purdue.