With 43 former Nittany Lions on active rosters in the NFL, Penn State has had great success in developing talented players.
While the memories of former stars and their impact on Penn State’s football program last forever, it’s always bittersweet for fans to see some of their favorite players move on from Happy Valley.
Although there’s no realistic opportunity for any former Nittany Lions to play in Beaver Stadium again, what if the football world allowed one former player from each program to return to their alma mater for one more season in 2021?
If this happened, many may immediately flock to Saquon Barkley as the answer.
The former running back holds the program record for most rushing touchdowns (43) and most total touchdowns (53), and he compiled 3,843 rushing yards over his three years in the blue and white.
Leading the Nittany Lions to a Big Ten title in 2016 and finishing in the top-4 in Heisman voting in 2017, there isn’t much more Barkley could’ve done to win the hearts of football fans and scouts alike. He followed it up with a No. 2-overall draft selection in 2018.
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While Barkley almost single handedly changed the landscape of Franklin’s program by the time he exited University Park, he is likely not the man who would best suit the Nittany Lions if an ideal world allowed a former player to rejoin this upcoming season’s squad.
If not Barkley, then who else?
The answer lies with Penn State’s biggest positional head-scratcher for 2021: quarterback.
In three seasons in Happy Valley, Sean Clifford has had remarkable highs and very low-lows as starting quarterback.
In his first season under center, Clifford threw for 2,654 yards and 23 touchdowns to lead the blue and white to an 11-2 record and a double-digit win in the Cotton Bowl.
However, this past season, Clifford showed signs of regression.
While he did play in three fewer games in 2020 than 2019, Clifford still showed drops in nearly every statistical category except for interceptions, including a career-high nine interceptions.
Penn State finished the 2020 season 4-5 — the program’s first losing season since 2004.
The questions surrounding Penn State’s quarterback position are all but obvious: Will Clifford return to his 2019 form, or will he repeat with another disappointing season under center?
Luckily, in this hypothetical, the questions surrounding Clifford’s performance in 2021 could all go away — with a former quarterback returning to town to “throw it on a dime” for the Nittany Lions once again.
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Trace McSorley holds 11 program records, so many it’s not even worth listing them all. Some include most wins (50), passing yards (9,899) and passing touchdowns (77).
In four seasons in Happy Valley, McSorley defined himself as arguably the best slinger to ever wear the blue and white.
If he were to return to Penn State after two seasons as a backup quarterback for the Baltimore Ravens, McSorley would have professional experience playing under Lamar Jackson to perform at an even higher level than he did during his college career.
With Noah Cain returning from injury in 2021, Penn State’s running back room seems all but strong for this upcoming season, so Barkley may not be the go-to selection for a return to Beaver Stadium.
McSorley on the other hand, would fill the Nittany Lions biggest positional need, alongside a well-rounded offense containing wide receivers Jahan Dotson, Parker Washington and KeAndre Lambert-Smith.