For the first time since the Blue-White game in mid-April Penn State Head Coach James Franklin addressed the media. Nearly two months after the Blue-White game and a departure of former Lion and back-up quarterback Tommy Stevens, Franklin fielded questions about the quarterback position. What did he say? Not much. According to the Centre Daily Times, Franklin stated that every position on the depth chart is an “open competition.” While we know many positions that are not actually an open competition, such as Micah Parsons‘ linebacker spot, or Yetur Gross-Matos being a starter on the defensive line. The quarterback position, on the other hand, could very well be up for grabs. So, who is on the roster and what are their chances of being the Penn State starting quarterback?
Penn State Starting Quarterback, Who Will Step Up?
There are four quarterbacks on the Penn State roster that have a chance to be the starter. One of those four has actual game experience in a Penn State uniform. Sean Clifford is the fan favorite to start in the Fall. Clifford is the only quarterback on the roster with Penn State game experience, but without Franklin naming a starter there are three other guys that could arguably get the nod. Penn State needs a quarterback and there are four to choose from.
Clifford makes the most sense to be the Penn State starting quarterback when the season starts in August. The redshirt sophomore was second on the depth chart behind Trace McSorley last season due to injury to Stevens. Further, Clifford appeared in four games including the Bowl game against Kentucky when McSorley went out with an injury. Overall, Clifford threw for 195 yards and two touchdowns a season ago.
Not only is Clifford the only quarterback on the roster with Penn State playing experience, but he has also shown his leadership since Stevens decided to transfer. When the team got the news that Stevens was transferring the sophomore could have let a senior or veteran player with more game experience speak to the team, but according to Parsons in an interview with pennlive.com, Clifford said, “There will be no drop-off in the QB position.” He understood the magnitude of Stevens deciding to leave as a graduate transfer and that he is now the most experienced signal caller in the room. Therefore, it is his time to step up and lead the guys staring back at him looking for an answer.
Another guy that could get the nod is Will Levis. Even though Clifford is the favorite amongst fans to be the Penn State starting quarterback, Levis looked good in his Blue-White game outing. Levis does not have any game experience in a Penn State uniform, but during the Blue-White game, Levis went 4-for-7 for 86 yards, including a beautiful touchdown pass to Dan Chisena. While there is no other Penn State film to look at for Levis, his high school stats stand out. His senior year he threw for 2,793 yards, with 27 passing touchdowns, and six rushing touchdowns. This shows that he is a dual-threat guy, something that fits in this Penn State offense. He may not have the experience that Clifford does, but do not count Levis out just yet.
The Freshmen Quarterbacks
There are two true freshman quarterbacks that could step up this summer. Franklin stated that he expects one of either Ta’Quan Roberson or Michael Johnson Jr. to challenge Clifford and Levis for the Penn State starting quarterback position. Both true freshmen were early enrollees and have been with the team since the start of the spring semester. Roberson is a 5-ft-11-inch quarterback that is described as gritty. He was likened to McSorley during recruitment. Johnson Jr. was the number two recruit out of Oregon and a dual-threat guy.
Both put up good numbers in high school. Roberson tallied 2,433 passing yards as a senior with 29 touchdowns and only six interceptions on the year. Johnson Jr. recorded less passing yards his senior season with 1,812 yards, but also racked up 1,290 rushing yards. The two quarterbacks have different styles, but just looking at their high school accolades, both are competitors and seem to be up for a challenge.
It is likely that Clifford will be the Penn State starting quarterback come August. The team has really rallied around him since the departure of Stevens. He is the only guy on the roster at the quarterback position with real college game experience. Finally, he is tough and will not allow the starting spot to go by without a fight. Therefore, while Levis and the true freshmen may close the gap this summer, it is unlikely that Franklin will go with someone other than Clifford against Idaho on August 31st.