Why Penn State QB Drew Allar might be college football's most important player

FILE - Penn State quarterback Drew Allar (15) looks to pass against Ohio during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022, in State College, Pa. Penn State opens their season at home against West Virginia on Sept. 2. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger, File) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

The expectations for Drew Allar are even bigger than the Penn State quarterback himself — which is saying something about a guy who sees eye-to-eye with the star offensive tackle who protects his blindside.

Allar's pregame warm-ups have made grown men swoon. He played one series in a competitive game as a freshmen in 2022, throwing four passes in a possession that netted no points at Purdue, yet the performance drew raves from coaches and teammates. One side-arm flick by Allar during the spring game sent a surge of excitement through Penn State fans.

“I think the things that jump out to you right away is he can make he can make a couple throws very few people on the planet can make,” Penn State coach James Franklin said.

Allar has thrown only 60 passes in college and a week before the season opener No. 7 Penn State had still not officially been declared the winner of a quarterback competition with Beau Pribula.

Yet he just might be the most important player in college football this season.

The baby-faced, 6-foot-5, 242-pound former five-star recruit has the potential to be the difference-maker Penn State needs to bust the recent Michigan/Ohio State monopoly in the Big Ten and break into the small group of programs to reach the College Football Playoff.

Since 2016, when Penn State emerged from NCAA sanctions related to the Jerry Sandusky scandal and won its only Big Ten title under Franklin, the Nittany Lions have the eighth-best winning percentage among Power Five programs (.727) and four 11-win seasons.

The other seven — Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Georgia, Oklahoma, Notre Dame and Michigan — have all made the CFP at least twice.

The Nittany Lions have had quality quarterback play during that time with Trace McSorley and Sean Clifford, but a prospect like Allar has not arrived in Happy Valley since Christian Hackenberg in 2013.

Hackenberg started as a freshman and had Penn State fans dreaming big, but when Bill O'Brien left for the NFL and Franklin took over as head coach, his development went sideways. Penn State went 14-12 over his next two seasons.

Meanwhile, the insta-star quarterback was becoming common in college football.

Since Florida's Tim Tebow became the first sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy in 2007, five more quarterbacks have won the award in their second college seasons, including USC's Caleb Williams and Alabama's Bryce Young the past two years.

Ohio State's' last three quarterbacks — Dwayne Haskins, Justin Fields and C.J. Stroud — became Heisman finalists as first-year starters.

So why can't Allar?

"His ball placement is off the charts. He has a cannon for an arm. He’s going to really do big things this year," Penn State cornerback Kalen King said.

Allar's path to becoming a top recruit in Medina, Ohio, was a little unusual. Like Young, for example, many top prospects these days are already in the QB pipeline, working with personal trainers before they get to high school.

Not Allar.

His father, Kevin, played tight end at Eastern Michigan during the 1990s, and Drew was on that path as a young player. In high school, he committed to playing quarterback. He became a starter at the end of his sophomore season and announced himself by throwing for more than 500 yards in a playoff loss against traditional power St. Edward.

He began working in 2020 with Northern Ohio-based trainer Brad Maendler. Gangly and still growing into his body, Allar was raw with big arm.

"This dude was serious about being great," Maendler said.

Allar's prospect status soared during the 2020 season and the big-time offers — Michigan, Notre Dame, Texas A&M, Washington — followed. Allar committed to Penn State and offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich in March 2021 and never seemed to waver.

He arrived in Happy Valley with a sixth-year senior in Clifford entrenched as the starter, prepared to compete and ready to learn.

“It was a blessing to have a guy like Sean Clifford in the room with us," Allar said. "I don’t think I would have done as well in those games without him.”

Before his first college game, Allar was already commanding attention.

“I remember standing there before the Purdue game. (Fox announcer) Joel Klatt was like drooling on the field next to me (watching Allar warm up). He's hitting me. He’s like, ‘Look at this guy!’” Franklin said.

Allar played the first series of the second half at Purdue in relief of a banged up Clifford. He completed two passes, made a sensational throw between two defenders that was dropped, and seemed unfazed by the moment.

“He just looked extremely poised out there,” Franklin said.

Allar played played nine more games, mostly when Penn State was winning big, as the Nittany Lions went on to finish 11-2 with a Rose Bowl victory.

Penn State returns many of the key players from that team, including talented running backs Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen and star linebacker Abdul Carter, all sophomores like Allar.

“It’s really cool,” Allar said of the hype around him and the Nittany Lions, “but it’s not just me that people should be excited for.”

Still, adding a potential first-round NFL draft-pick quarterback — something Penn State has not had since Kerry Collins in 1995 — to that foundation couple help the Nittany Lions finally make the jump from great program to elite. Penn State has lost six straight to Ohio State and gone 3-6 against Michigan under Franklin.

Allar's older teammates praise his work ethic, focus and humility.

“If he’s not in the facility, he's in the room,” said King, a preseason All-American and Allar's roommate.

When star tackle Olu Fashanu says his job is to protect Allar from pressure, he's not just talking about blocking.

“I do feel a certain amount of responsibility for myself to help him out, calm him down. Just make sure he knows that he doesn’t have to carry all the weight,” said the 6-6, 320-pound preseason All-American.

Yurcich isn't concerned about Allar bearing the burden of high expectations.

“This is what you had hoped you thought this would be. There should be no surprise. This is what you signed up for. This is what we sold you on. Right? So now you’re getting exactly what we had hoped this would be," Yurcich said. "So there should be an anticipation. Yeah, it should be Christmas morning.”


Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at http://www.appodcasts.com


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