After a rocky 2020 campaign that saw him briefly lose his job as the starting quarterback, Sean Clifford is still seen as a candidate to win college football's most notable individual award. He currently has 90/1 odds to win the 2021 Heisman trophy per Sports Betting Dime.
Clifford has the 17th-best odds per this list, coming in just behind Auburn's Bo Nix and just ahead of Notre Dame running back Kyren Williams. Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler is the current favorite at 7/1, following by presumed 2021 Clemson quarterback DJ Uiagalelei at 9/1.
Other Big Ten names on the list include Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr. (19/1) and Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz (20/1). It is likely that once Ohio State picks a new quarterback in the fall or the spring, their name will be added to the list, as well.
Clifford took a step back in 2020, throwing for 1,883 yards with a 16/9 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He did slightly improve his passing percentage (59.2 in 2019, 60.6 in 2020) but saw his yards per attempt take a dip from 8.3 to 7.5.
Still, there is reason to be optimistic about what Clifford can accomplish as a redshirt senior in 2021. In his previous stops at Western Michigan and Minnesota, offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca's offenses experienced downturns in production in his first season before starting to figure things out in year two. It's not unreasonable to think that the same thing happens in Happy Valley, especially with the offseason expected to be closer to normal than we saw ahead of the 2020 season. With the Gophers, quarterback Tanner Morgan made huge strides in year two under Ciarrocca, and with Clifford having all of the physical tools to succeed, we could see the same situation play out at Penn State.
The offensive line is expected to be strong in 2021 in Phil Trautwein's second year, despite the fact that they will be replacing center Michal Menet and right guard Will Fries. The running back room is deep and loaded with Noah Cain expected to return, Keyvone Lee now an established player, and John Lovett, Devyn Ford, and Caziah Holmes all playing supporting roles. The pass-catching group loses Pat Freiermuth but showed that they are capable of being difference-makers without him and (as of now) will return Jahan Dotson, Parker Washington, KeAndre Lambert-Smith, Brenton Strange, and Theo Johnson. All of the pieces look to be falling into place for Clifford to have a big year if he makes the necessary adjustments.
In other words, if you're looking for a sleeper pick to take home the trophy next season, there are far worse bets you could make than the Nittany Lion signal-caller.