EVANSTON, Ill. -- He may truly understand what really is riding on this mega-matchup in Beaver Stadium in five days.

Daryll Clark knows it goes beyond Penn State vs. Ohio State.

He won't say it. His coaches will outright dispute such a notion. But the legacy of a really good Nittany Lion quarterback will be decided with what happens on one afternoon.

That's just what it's come to be, fair or not.

Football talk and football memories are what they are. So consider:

Clark has exceeded most expectations as a two-year starter, throwing the ball better than ever anticipated. Penn State is 19-3 when he takes the opening snaps of the game, for example. He offers a sunny and yet serious personality, a likeable kid and an impressive leader.

He's the most efficient passer in the Big Ten, is still a dangerous runner and is playing his best now, at the end of his career, when he should.

Plus, he rarely turns the ball over anymore and is among the national leaders in touchdown passes.

He impresses because he's intimidating on the field, that rocked-up physique, those arms wildly pumping when heavy doses of emotion regularly shoot through him. And he's inviting off it, those studious glasses and sharp suits and easy smile.

Then there's this: He's beaten Michigan in back-to-back seasons and even helped win in Ohio Stadium. Both of those accomplishments broke long, painful Penn State streaks.

And yet so much of his legacy still will be determined by what happens Saturday.


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Beat hated Ohio State again, finish the game this time, and he will just about be immortalized with the true Penn State greats by many supporters. It's that simple.

Four monster wins in two seasons.

"That would be something," Clark said, smiling, moments after the victory at Northwestern. "And the opportunity is there. A lot of people have talked to me about that."

Plus, such an outcome would just about lock up a second-straight big BCS bowl game bid for the Lions, too. (It's difficult to imagine Penn State losing to either of the seriously-flawed outfits of Indiana and Michigan State to end the season).

Lose on Saturday, though? And lose with a poor personal performance?

Things would be a lot different then, fair or not.

Lose on Saturday and the talk will resurface about how Clark couldn't win, and finish, a big game.

How he never played his very best when it mattered the very most. How he suffered meltdowns in two excruciating losses to Iowa.

They will compare him with former Lion QB Michael Robinson, lavishing praise on Robinson for the way he completed crucial rallies and elevated his game with everything on the line.

And they will whisper about how Clark shrunk under the hot lights.

They will shake their heads. He was really good, they will say. We really liked Daryll.

But . . .

But he won't be remembered the way he could, or maybe should.

No matter what kind of support his coaches offer.

"I don't think there's anybody better than he is in the country at quarterback right now," said Jay Paterno, his position coach. "I wouldn't trade him for anybody."

So let the Penn State-Ohio State hype begin.

Much of the attention, and even the fan venom, will be directed at super-talented sophomore Terrelle Pryor, the quarterback who picked Ohio State over the Lions out of high school.

Everyone, it seems, knows of his high-profiled struggles on the field.

The talk will be quieter surrounding Clark.

But it will be more meaningful. A legacy is on the line.

"It's Ohio State vs. Penn State, period," Clark said. "It's not Daryll Clark vs. Terrelle Pryor. We're not going to play that type of chess match. That's not what it's about."

Not. It's about even more than that.

Much more.

Frank Bodani covers Penn State football for the Daily Record/Sunday News. Reach him at 771-2104 or fbodani@ydr.com.