Penn State fans, particularly those in the Pittsburgh area familiar with the University of Pittsburgh’s football program, might have compared Nittany Lions’ quarterback Sean Clifford with Pitt’s Kenny Pickett.
Pickett was granted a fifth year of collegiate eligibility due to COVID-19, and boy, did he make the most of it. Seemingly overnight, Pickett became one of the best players in college football. He led Pitt to an ACC Championship and finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting.
In 2020, Pickett threw for 13 touchdown passes and nine interceptions– albeit in only nine games– on a team that went 6-5. This season, he threw for 42 touchdowns and seven interceptions on a team that is 11-2 pending the Peach Bowl against Michigan State (A game that Pickett decided to forgo, thus ending his Pitt career.)
Like Pickett, Clifford has decided to use his extra “COVID-year” and come back for what will be his sixth season in the Penn State program. While Penn State fans– and, presumably, Clifford himself– hope he can be in 2022 what Pickett was in 2021, Clifford said Friday that Pickett’s success with the extra year didn’t play into his decision to come back.
“I had to look at my decision as my decision,” Clifford said. “I’m not Kenny Pickett. Kenny Pickett isn’t Sean Clifford. So you can’t make decisions off of each other as college athletes. You have to (do) what’s smart for you.”
Clifford knows Pickett personally and played against him in 2019 when Penn State beat Pitt 17-10 in the last meeting of a four-game rivalry revival.
“Kudos to Kenny, though, for coming back and really changing the dynamic of his trajectory into the league and changing the program at Pitt this year,” Clifford said. “I know Kenny personally, friend of mine. So obviously, congratulations to him.”
Clifford said that factors that did influence him to come back were conversations with family, teammates and friends. Kenny Pickett was not one of those factors.
“We’re two different people, two different paths,” Clifford said. “So it got treated as such.”
Clifford finished his 2021 regular season with 20 touchdown passes, six interceptions, 2,912 passing yards and a 62.4 completion percentage. For comparison, Pickett threw for 2,408 yards– in just nine games– with a 61.1 completion percentage and the aforementioned 13 touchdowns and nine interceptions.