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Penn State's Starting Quarterback: Is it Really a Cliffhanger?

by on August 22, 2019 7:00 PM

Tommy Stevens committed to Penn State on November 11, 2014 — flipping from his home state Indiana University after Penn State lost Brandon Wimbush.

He stayed committed for 1,618 days, too.

Then, finally, Stevens gave up his dream of being the starting quarterback at Penn State — that day came on April 17 of this year, when he entered his name in the NCAA transfer portal.

Thirty days later, he signed with Mississippi State.

And now, on just his 97th day in Starksville, Stevens was named the starting quarterback by none other than JoeMo. Gee, that was fast.

What about Sean Clifford, the man Stevens left behind? Ostensibly, he's still waiting for a similar decision from James Franklin.

(Although The Collegian, for a few minutes on Tuesday, did post that "James Franklin names Sean Clifford as starting quarterback for 2019." It was #fakenews. At least for now.)

Cliff is accustomed to waiting. He pledged his verbal allegiance to Franklin and Penn State back on July 13, 2015 — the day before he turned 17.

That was 1,501 days ago, and seven months before the class’s second member, Yetur Gross-Matos, verbally committed.

Which means Clifford has been waiting for over four years to be announced as the starting quarterback at Penn State. What's a few more days to be named The Lion King?

It may seem like a cliffhanger:

Who will be the Nittany Lions' starting quarterback next Saturday at 3:30 p.m. in Beaver Stadium — Sean Clifford or Will Levis?

But c'mon. It's not.

There's gotta be a depth chart with removable name plates on the big board in the coaches' meeting room in Lasch that lists the presumptive starter at each position, with Clifford's name listed first under "Quarterback." Or, at least there oughta be.


This Tuesday, while wearing a pretty fashionable camp beard and a pair of dark sunglasses, Franklin said the idea of naming the Nittany Lions' starting quarterback hadn't crossed his mind.

“We haven’t even talked about it," Frankin said, literally shrugging his shoulders. "Honestly."

"Swear to God,” he added, raising his right hand. “We haven’t even discussed it at this point. We’re obviously getting close to that, but we haven’t had a discussion yet on quarterback — or really on any position when it comes to depth charts and rotations and stuff like that.”

So, what do we make of that? In honor of this coming Monday's first day of classes at University Park, here's a quick multiple-choice pop quiz of some options:

a.) CJF and his QB coach/offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne really haven't talked about.

b.) There's no reason to talk about it; Cliff's The Man.

c.) There's no need to talk about it, since Idaho is the season-opener, and any QB on the PSU roster could get the win. Idaho was 4-7 in 2018, losing its season-opener 79-13 to Fresno State, falling 62-18 to non-rival Idaho State, then losing three of its last four games by a combined 147-51, including a 63-10 drubbing by Florida. The Vandals ain't App State.

d.) It's a legit tough choice: Clifford The Leader vs. Levis The Stud.

e.) All of the above.

f.) None of the above.

I am tending toward "b.) Cliff's the Man." I'm not saying you should trust me, but Franklin did call me "Coach Poorman" during Tuesday's media availability.


I think that Franklin Freudian-slipped during that media scrum on Tuesday. He was asked if he would play two quarterbacks and his answer came out as somewhat of a Jamesplainer as to why he'd stick with Cliff for most of the game vs. the Vandals, even if the Nittany Lions were mashing Idaho.

You can certainly parse his answer to make a case that getting Clifford plenty of playing time is a priority against Idaho. (And against Buffalo and Pitt and Maryland...) Even at the risk of getting Levis only a few snaps.

"I haven't really been that guy in nine years (as a head coach) where we're going to play two guys — especially when you have a guy like Sean that doesn't have a lot of experience and he needs to gain that experience," Franklin said.

Then the coach paused.

"That's just my belief," he continued. "I want to make sure that Sean or Will or whoever the guy is — Will lacks even more experience...

"That's the challenge: You say you'd like to get two guys ready. But really you need to get one guy enough reps so you can start building his confidence."

That one guy?

Sean Clifford.

Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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