I’ve long held the belief that over the last two years, we’ve lost time. It still feels like 2020 when we’re roughly two weeks away from 2022. February 2020 still feels like yesterday and everything between then has been a wild blur.
When Penn Staters look back on the years 2002-2004, they are marked in colloquial history as the “Dark Years.” Years that included 6-4 and outside of Larry Johnson breaking the single-season rushing record, not much else.
I don’t think Penn State’s last two seasons have been Dark Years bad but I do think Penn State football and James Franklin have lost time in the last two years.
The Lost Years, if you will.
Now, Franklin has a top-10 recruiting class. He’s got a new contract. He’s got a 5-star quarterback on his roster who is the most talked-about recruit in recent Penn State memory.. He’s even got a splashy new hire at defensive coordinator.
We’re entering a new era of Penn State football. It’s an era that will define Franklin’s legacy as a head coach and one that could forever change the trajectory of Penn State’s football program.
The last two seasons in State College haven’t been what Penn Staters have been expecting. For a lot of people, the 2020 season was going to be “The Year” but then a global pandemic derailed those plans as the Big Ten went back and forth on whether it was playing football, and 0-5 start to the season didn’t exactly help.
On the flip side, the 2021 season was one that didn’t have many expectations at its start but grew as the season did until we all witnessed what might have been the worst football game since the 6-4 game, a 20-18 9OT loss to Illinois on Homecoming.
Ever since then, it’s been about this recruiting class, and really just one recruit – Drew Allar – to give Penn Staters a sense of hope. For whatever reasons, there seems to be more optimism and maybe more pressure riding on the future for Penn State on this 2022 class.
It’s Franklin’s highest recruiting class since the 2018 class, according to 247 Sports. (That class included Micah Parsons, Pat Freiermuth, Odafe Oweh and Jahan Dotson.) The 2022 class doesn’t just have Allar, but also the Gatorade Player of the Year in Nick Singleton, a top 10 wide receiver in Kaden Saunders plus the No. 1 player from Maryland in Dani Dennis-Sutton.
In sum, six of the top 10 players from Pennsylvania are staying in-state with this class, harkening back to Franklin’s original message of “Dominate the State.”
All said, this is Franklin’s most important class to date. It’s the type of class you build a future around.
That future is something that’s about to become a reality sooner rather than later, though. As I mentioned, Franklin now has a new contract. He’s also got a splashy defensive coordinator hire in Manny Diaz. He’s probably going to get some sort of a facilities upgrade again.
We’re getting to the point where there is no more room for lost time. There is no more room for “elite” speeches when the program has fallen short of that ever since then. And I think Franklin knows that and I think that’s probably why his contract is structured the way it is.
The matter of fact is this: There’s a lot riding on this class that signed this week. There’s a lot riding on the future of Penn State football with Franklin at its helm, even if the 2021 season isn’t technically over. It all has to come together and it all very well could. It also very well couldn’t.
But either way, whether good or bad, the next set of “Years” is going to be the one that we remember Franklin for.