Ever since Joe Burrow rallied from 200:1 preseason odds to win the Heisman Trophy, the realistic Heisman watchlist became a lot bigger, as darkhorses emerge from every corner of the college football landscape. So for today’s Heisman Watchlist feature, we’re taking a look at Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford – a very intriguing underdog for the Heisman. Playing in the Big 10, Clifford is sure to have plenty of Heisman moments, and despite an uneven finish to 2019, the Nittany Lions’ signal-caller proved his ability to perform in big situations. Penn State had three players with over 50 carries last season that averaged over five yards a carry, so Clifford wasn’t always required to carry the load on his back. This was especially evident in their Cotton Bowl win, as Clifford threw for 133 yards, but the Nittany Lions slapped 53 points on the scoreboard.
However, Clifford did his fair share for the Penn State offense. His talent was on display early and often , as Clifford threw for 398 yards in a 59-0 beatdown of Maryland. He tossed for three touchdowns against the Terrapins, and another three against Purdue a week later. Against Iowa, when the air game was struggling against a stiff Hawkeyes’ defense, Clifford contributed on the ground, grinding out 52 yards and a touchdown with his legs.
Ohio State’s pure dominance in the Big 10 overshadowed Penn State’s incredible season last year, as the Nittany Lions lost only twice in ranked road games, and Clifford was simply a winner under center for Penn State. From his gutsy win over Indiana on Senior Day, when he ran for 55 yards and a pair of touchdowns, grinding out a victory over Michigan at home, to destroying Michigan State on the road, Clifford accumulated over 3000 all-purpose yards in a series of impressive performances, and he looks like a viable Heisman contender with a schedule full of opportunities to impress the voters.
Best Chances for a Heisman moment
Circle (tentatively due to ongoing schedule concerns) October 24 on your calendars, as Clifford and Penn State will be hosting the Ohio State Buckeyes. Whiteout? The stadium will very likely not be full, but the whiteout is the best atmosphere in college sports, and even a partial one will be great, and the atmosphere on campus will be electric. In a game that could decide the Big 10 West, Sean Clifford should get every chance in this game to win a big one for the Nittany Lions and get his Heisman moment against the Buckeyes.
Other games to watch will be their trip to the Big House to take on Michigan, and a curious road Halloween game against Indiana.
Game most likely to ruin Heisman chances
Upset losses can be brutal for a Heisman resume, so Penn State’s Week 2 trip to Virgina Tech is a scary prospect. The Nittany Lions will be favored, but winning on the road against the Hokies is a tough task most years, and as the first real test of the year for Penn State, it will be important for Clifford to come out hot and ready to play in this one.