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Sean Clifford was anointed the starting QB at Penn State last August, in an announcement surprising only due to the amount of time it took to become official. Clifford, with an admittedly small sample size, performed well in limited action in 2018, compiling career statistics of 5-7 with 2 TD passes. An underwhelming performance in the Citrus Bowl may have given the coaches slight pause to name him the starter right away, but Clifford has shown great deep-ball accuracy and a strong arm. His maturity and decision-making will improve with experience.

Early career success accounts for some of the hype around Clifford as he steps up to the starting role. Another factor, however, increases the pressure even more. Clifford wears #14, a sacred number among Nittany Lion QB alumni. Penn State #14’s quarterbacked both consensus national championships, undefeated teams, were 5-star high school recruits, and first-round NFL draft picks. Here is PSU Zone’s Power Ranking of the greatest quarterbacks to wear #14 in blue and white.


#6. Christian Hackenberg

#6. Christian Hackenberg

Hackenberg came into Penn State as a white knight. With TE Adam Brenneman, Hackenberg stuck with his commitment to Penn State in the wake of the Sandusky scandal, and showed other recruits that the program was still a destination school. No one can question his importance to the program, character, and toughness in the face of constant adversity on and off the field. The on-field results were less positive, though. With impossibly high expectations, Hack delivered a good freshman season in 2013 (2,955 yards, 20 TD, 134.0 rating) under Bill O’Brien that had analysts ready to crank up the hype train. A sharp regression in 2014 in James Franklin’s first year, followed by an inconsistent 2015 season diminished the shine on Hackenberg’s star. By the end of his career, Hack became unable to make basic throws, and his early-career success appeared to be buoyed by the greatness of Allen Robinson. If this list were about heart, Hackenberg would be #1.


#5. Anthony Morelli

#5. Anthony Morelli

Similar to Hackenberg, Morelli came to Penn State at the end of a rough patch, backing up Zack Mills in the final year of the worst 2- and 5-year [on-field] stretch in Penn State’s football history. Morelli had a huge arm in college, but had a tendency to overlook a higher-probability short- to mid-range throw in favor of the home run. To be fair, the 2005 recruiting class boasted back-breaking receivers Deon Butler and Derrick Williams. Morelli did deliver two bowl victories over Power 5 opponents (Tennessee – 2006-7 Outback Bowl, Texas A&M – 2007-8 Alamo Bowl). With so much talent on the 2006-7 teams, Morelli underachieved with what many thought was a national championship-caliber group.


#4. John Shaffer

#4. John Shaffer

Shaffer was the ultimate winner. QB of two of the best defensive teams Penn State ever had, 1985-6, Shaffer was 66-1 as a starter since the 8th grade, the one loss resulting from his 3-interception loss to Oklahoma at the end of the ’85 season that cost the Nittany Lions the national title. His statistics would never support that record, but something has to be said for a quarterback’s ability to lead a team to victory. Shaffer gave one of the gutsiest performances ever in the desert of Tempe in the ’87 Fiesta Bowl against heavily-favored Miami. With the original “The U” in full swing, the Hurricane showed up in battle fatigues and walked out of a dinner with the Nittany Lions before the game. Shaffer was sacked twice on the first series and ended the night with only 53 yards. Shaffer won a race to the pilon from 4 yards out in the second quarter to tie the game at 7. The score energized the Lions, and showed them (and Miami) that they had come to play.


#3. Wally Richardson

#3. Wally Richardson

Wally was one of the most underrated QBs in Penn State’s history. Forever in the shadows of the Nittany Lions’ best QB Kerry Collins, Wally took over in 1995 and led Penn State to a disappointing 3-loss campaign, capped by a blowout victory over Auburn in the Outback Bowl. There were several holdovers from the undefeated, Rose Bowl champion 1994 team, including gamebreaking receivers Freddie Scott and inaugural Biletnikoff Award winner Bobby Engram. Statistically, Wally hada better ‘95 season than ‘96, throwing for over 2,000 yards, tossing 18 TDs and registering a rating of 126.9. Richardson was benched in the ‘96 Indiana game at Bloomington, allowing backup Mike McQueary to enter and lead the Lions to victory. There was speculation as to who would start the following week against reigning conference champion Northwestern. Joe Paterno chose Wally, and the result: Penn State 34, Northwestern 9. Richardson finished the year with 3 more victories and a bowl win over Priest Holmes, Ricky Williams and Texas before getting drafted by the Ravens.


#2. Chuck Fusina

#2. Chuck Fusina

Fusina led the Penn State to two 11-1 seasons in 1977-8, losing a 14-7 decision to #2 Alabama in the 1979 Sugar Bowl that cost the top-ranked Nittany Lions a national championship. Fusina led Penn State to a first-and-goal at the Tide 8 yard line, and after a second-down completion that put the ball on the 1. Paterno opted for two straight runs, but Bama shut the Lions down, preserving the victory. Fusina won the Maxwell Award in 1978, first-team All-American honors, and was second in the Heisman voting. In 3 years as a starter, Fusina had an aggregate rating of 132.7, throwing for over 5,300 yards and 37 TDs.


#1. Todd Blackledge

#1. Todd Blackledge

A more entertaining debate might be whether Blackledge or Kerry Collins was the best all-time Penn State QB, but there’s no question that he is the best to wear #14 for Penn State. Chuck Fusina had better numbers than Blackledge, who tallied just over 4,800 passing yards, 41 TDs and an aggregate rating of 121.4. What puts Blackledge ahead was that he delivered what Fusina could not: a Sugar Bowl victory (this time over Georgia) and a national title. Blackledge had a stellar senior year, catapulting him to a 1st round draft selection. His 47-TD pass to Gregg Garrity in the 1983 Sugar Bowl is one of the most iconic moments in Penn State history.


Where will Sean Clifford rank? From a talent perspective, he’s absolutely on par with any on this list. It will depend on what he does with it that will determine where he lands after the games are played. There are some big shoes to fill with wearing #14 at Penn State, but Clifford certainly will not shy away from doing his best to live up to the legends that have come before him.

About the Author:

Eric Mayhue


Eric Mayhue is a contributing author and commentator at PSU Zone. An avid sports fan, Eric can talk for hours about the Penn State Nittany Lions of past and present. When he's not cheering on the blue and white, Eric stays active in the internet marketing community and enjoys superhero movies and video games.

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