It’s summer, it’s hot outside, but this is a good time to get into the hot topics Penn State fans need to know about for football season this fall. This is part of our ongoing Burning Questions series, in which we will tackle the biggest issues for the Nittany Lions.
We have a list of great topics we’ll dive into in the coming days and weeks. Additionally, if fans have any Burning Questions of your own, pass them along in the comments below or on social media, and we may add your topic to our list.
Today: Do you believe James Franklin is a good enough coach to take Penn State to the next level?
Let’s be crystal clear about one thing first: Franklin has done a very good job at Penn State during his tenure. He has enjoyed a lot of success — which simply cannot be denied — and he deserves a lot of credit.
Still, there is a portion of the PSU fan base that doesn’t fully believe in Franklin. You’ve seen or heard the comments. We’ve all seen or heard the comments.
Any time questions arise about what kind of success the Nittany Lions hope to achieve in the future, some people speak up and contend that it will not happen because of perceived shortcomings Franklin has as a coach.
Let me point out, this burning question I’m asking is about Franklin THE FOOTBALL COACH.
Not about Franklin the recruiter. He’s doing an excellent job of that right now, with PSU having the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation for 2022.
This isn’t about Franklin the CEO, either. Or the university spokesman. Or the family man. Or the leader. He is strong in all of those areas.
Again, this is about the football coach. The gameday decision maker. The Xs and Os guy. The tactician. The one who has to make the tough call with the game on the line.
PODCAST: Neil Rudel from the Altoona Mirror discusses Franklin and changes in college football on “Sports Central with Cory Giger” on WRTA in Altoona.
Do you believe Franklin is good enough in all of those areas to feel confident he can fulfill his promise and make Penn State an elite program?
To not only reach the College Football Playoff, but actually beat Nick Saban, Dabo Swinney, Ryan Day, Kirby Smart or Lincoln Riley in one of those big games?
See, it’s those areas where many Penn State fans have always harbored the most doubt about Franklin.
This is a coach who has gone 60-28 at Penn State. Who won a Big Ten title (2016). Who won a Fiesta Bowl (2017) and a Cotton Bowl (2019).
There’s a lot of good on that resume.
But the perception of Franklin struggling as a gameday coach still lingers.
Our Burning Questions series:
As Neil Rudel from the Altoona Mirror pointed out in the podcast above, Franklin cost PSU the Indiana game last year by not kneeling on the ball or being adamant in telling Devyn Ford not to go into the end zone when the Hoosiers were allowing him to do so late in the game.
That kind of thing just can’t happen, when every little decision matters late in games against good teams.
All coaches make bad in-game decisions sometimes. And we all love to second guess them after the fact. But Penn State fans have always liked pointing out Franklin’s flaws — and going back to them as their criteria for why they don’t believe he can lead the Lions to the elite, national championship caliber program everyone hopes can happen.
My biggest gripe about Franklin, actually, is that far too often his teams don’t seem ready to play when the game starts. Perhaps the most consistent aspect of his tenure has been the Lions coming out and playing a ho-hum first half, sort of easing their way into games, and then waiting until halftime to make big adjustments.
Put another way, Penn State never seems ready to just come out and kick some a** to start games.
Sure, Franklin and his staff have proven to be very good at making adjustments at halftime, but I can’t for the life of me understand why there never seems to be much sense of urgency to start games.
That falls directly on Franklin’s shoulders, in my opinion, and is one thing that could prevent Penn State from ever reaching elite status unless the coach can find a way to change things at the outset of games.
Now, there is something on the horizon that absolutely will help Franklin from a perception standpoint. It’s the inevitable expansion of the College Football Playoff — likely to 12 teams — because when that happens, Penn State certainly should be a perennial playoff program.
It would be a problem, actually, if a tradition-rich PSU program that has so many things going for it IS NOT one of the top 12 programs in the country on a consistent basis. That would be a big cause for concern.
So, what’s likely to happen is that Franklin will lead Penn State into the playoff a number of times, probably as an 8-12 seed. Him getting to the playoff will increase his reputation and strengthen his job security at Penn State.
But what if the Lions always get bounced in the first round? Or if they do beat some relatively similar CFP opponents in the first round, only to lose time and time again to the elite teams?
That’s sort of where Penn State is already — good enough to beat most teams, yet not quite good enough to take down the biggest of the big boys and the nation’s best coaches.
Can Franklin get to the point where he does indeed lead Penn State past an Alabama or Clemson or Oklahoma or Georgia when it truly matters most — in a playoff game?
A lot of PSU fans still have their doubts about that. And rightfully so.