AP Top 25 Takeaways: Veteran QBs Clifford and Nix deliver big

Being a good, but certainly not great, quarterback can be a tough ride in college football.

Good enough to start and succeed, but not enough to satisfy fans who only see a ceiling they wish were higher.

That’s the life Penn State’s Sean Clifford and Oregon’s Bo Nix have led, and veteran quarterbacks proved their worth on Saturday.

Clifford, in his sixth year with Penn State, deftly guided the No. 22-ranked Nittany Lions through hostile territory and to one of their most impressive non-conference wins in years. Clifford took a lick at Auburn, came back and sent Tigers fans home early from Jordan-Hare Stadium. Clifford was 14 for 19 for 178 yards, one rushing touchdown and barely a turnover.

The future at Penn State is five-star rookie Drew Allar. The future looks bright and some Nittany Lions fans are eager to make it happen. But for now, Clifford is the man for Penn State coach James Franklin, who appears to have surrounded the 24-year-old with the best set of weapons the team has had in several years.

Freshman running backs Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen (who combined for 174 yards and four touchdowns) resurrected a Penn State running game that had been dormant for two years.

“The ability to be more balanced and take the pressure off the passing game was really important to us,” Franklin said.

Add a few talented pass catchers, and Clifford can be both game director and playmaker.

The record says Penn State is where it was last year after three games: 3-0, with a narrow road win to open the Big Ten season and a win over Auburn. An injury to Clifford midway through last year’s Iowa game sent Penn State into a spiral. This team feels different.

Meanwhile, Auburn went through two quarterbacks that combined for four giveaways that buried the Tigers. Who knew how much Nix would miss Auburn?

The five-star rookie who has started most games for the Tigers over the past three seasons has had plenty of ups and downs on the Plains, a mix of memorable and regrettable.

He jumped into the portal after last season and landed in Oregon. Good choice.

Two weeks after being embarrassed by top-ranked Georgia, the No. 25-ranked Ducks looked a lot like the Pac-12 contender they were supposed to be in a game-changing win over BYU.

Nix threw two touchdowns and ran for three against the Cougars. The last Oregon quarterback to do so: Heisman winner Marcus Mariota in 2014.

“One of my former coaches told me that pressure is a privilege, and so I really took that to heart, and there’s nothing truer in my opinion,” Nix said. “When you have a lot of pressure, it means people believe in you, people believe you can do it, otherwise you wouldn’t have any pressure at all.”

The Ducks were so outclassed by Georgia in Atlanta on Labor Day weekend that it was tempting to wonder if new coach Dan Lanning and his staff might be in over their heads. And there were plenty of Ducks fans wondering if Nix really was the best quarterback they could make with former blue-chipper Ty Thompson on the bench.

Since that 49-3 loss, the Ducks have scored 111 points. Against BYU, a team that went 5-0 against the Pac-12 last year and beat Baylor last week, Nix led the Ducks 38-7 in the third quarter.

Neither Clifford nor Nix will be the players in the draftnik debate after the season. And there will likely be times this season when their fans are still yearning for the next big thing.

But they were more than enough on Saturday.

Now that Nebraska has left Scott Frost, who is the next coach to be fired?

Auburn’s Bryan Harsin has seemed to be running out of time since last winter, when boosters decided to fish for a reason to fire him after just one season. The coup did not work, but it appeared that Harsin had little support.

If there was a path to a surprisingly successful season that saved Harsin’s job, it’s probably gone now. Auburn then dives into Southeastern Conference play: Can Harsin survive back-to-back road games against No. 1 Georgia and No. 20 Mississippi in mid-October?

Speaking of Ole Miss, the Rebels beat Georgia Tech and coach Geoff Collins 42-0.

Collins is in Year 4 of a rebuild that proved tricky after the Yellow Jackets pitched the option under Paul Johnson but failed completely to get started.

Georgia Tech probably isn’t the type of school that’s going to pull the plug so soon. At this rate, however, it’s going to be tough to play this season. Georgia Tech has UCF next week, No. 23 Pitt after that.

Finally, Herm Edwards’ tenure at Arizona State appears to be heading for an ugly conclusion after the Sun Devils lost 30-21 at home to Eastern Michigan, the first Mid-American Conference team to beat a Pac-12 team. .

Arizona State (1-2) opens conference play against No. 14 Utah, No. 7 USC and Washington.

Appalachian State is a must-watch TV. This week: The Mountaineer’s Miracle … App State’s foil last week, No. 24 Texas A&M, bounced back with a win over No. 13 Miami. A quarterback change did little to boost the Aggies’ offense, but Miami continued to perform poorly in the red zone. The next three weeks for A&M: #10 Arkansas, at Mississippi State, at #2 Alabama. … The Pac-12 got a whole lot more interesting this weekend, especially in the Pacific Northwest. After Oregon’s victory, Washington and Michael Penix Jr. eliminated Michigan’s 11th state. The transformation of the Huskies offense under first-year coach Kalen DeBoer and Indiana’s transfer Penix has been remarkable … We might have been too quick to call the Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson a contender for Hesiman after Week 1. He struggled again and the Gators were lucky to escape USF. … Nebraska’s first game after Frost couldn’t have been much worse. No. 6 Oklahoma scored more points at Lincoln than ever before in a rivalry that dates back more than a century. … After 179 minutes of football this season, No. 1 Georgia allowed its first touchdown. Brock Bowers and the Bulldogs crushed South Carolina. … No idea how good No. 4 Michigan is after the Wolverines beat Colorado State, Hawaii and UConn 166-17. Maybe Maryland can give Michigan something close to a game next week. The same can be said for undefeated Minnesota (3-0) after outscoring weak opposition 149-17… The Gophers beat Colorado on Saturday. The Buffaloes argue that they are the worst team in the Power Five. … The first FCS team to beat a Power Five opponent this season is Southern Illinois. The Salukis came 0-2 down and lost Northwestern, which has lost two straight since beating Nebraska in Ireland. … A week after the Sun Belt recorded three Power Five road victories, South Alabama and Old Dominion had two more in sight. But both UCLA and Virginia threw field goals to avoid upsets. … The Sun Belt attacked Conference USA in the offseason, but C-USA got a little revenge on Saturday by going 3-0 in non-conference games. This included Rice beating Louisiana to end FBS’ longest active winning streak at 15 games. … This week’s big surprise came from the American Athletic Conference: Tulane beat Kansas State of the Big 12 to go 3-0 for the first time since 1998… March Madness in September: Kansas, Duke, Syracuse and Indiana are all 3-0. The Blue Devils and Jayhawks play in Lawrence, Kansas next week.

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

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