On the eve of coaching his ninth season at Penn State, James Franklin is at a crossroads at his time in Happy Valley. Franklin’s program is coming off two mediocre seasons (11-11 overall, 8-10 in conference play). Despite that, Penn State gave him a ten-year-$85-million-dollar extension that goes through 2034 in December after he was flirting with USC to take the job at USC before Lincoln Riley took the position. Penn State has the number six recruiting class in the country, and veteran players coming back at key positions.
The point is, this is the most important season in James Franklin’s coaching career at Penn State.
Franklin got a pass for the 2020 season because of COVID when they went 4-5. He also got a pass when he went 2-6 to finish the season when Sean Clifford, PJ Mustipher, and a host of key starters got injured.
This year Franklin needs to get it done and win double-digit games, which includes winning the games you are supposed to win–and beating Ohio State or Michigan.
Penn State is behind Ohio State, and Michigan and Michigan State are always running neck to neck with them. Franklin had all the tools to succeed and has not delivered over the past two seasons and losing at home to Illinois when you have eight players who got selected in the NFL Draft is unacceptable. That loss last season shows a sign that the program has slipped to the middle of the Big Ten conference, rather than a potential College Football Playoff contender.
I am not suggesting that Franklin loses his job or be on the hot seat if he has another underwhelming season. I am saying if Penn State has another mediocre season this will affect recruiting. The effects of losing those recruits in the south, and even in-state (Neeo Avery, Tomarrion Parker, Josh Miller, Yazeed Haynes, Marcus Stokes) will become more common because when you have three sub-standard seasons, you have proven that you cannot hang with the big dogs in the conference. Then there is another looming threat to Penn State, USC, and Lincoln Riley.
I wrote an article on NSN on how it would be beneficial for Penn State and USC should play every year and how it would be beneficial to Penn State when it comes to recruiting. Well, it goes both ways because when USC joins the Big 10, they will have better accessibility to recruits on the east coast, particularly Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey, and even Pennsylvania. The two top players that they got from the transfer portal, Caleb Williams and Jordan Addison, are from the DMV area.
I know Franklin can get this train back on track and get a ten-win season out of Penn State and compete for a conference championship. I see a lot of the 2021 Pitt Panthers in the 2022 Penn State Nittany Lions. A sixth-year senior quarterback, youth on defense, and depth at the skill positions. I thank Penn State has its most talented roster since the 2016 team that won the Big Ten championship.
The Journey will start at Ross Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Indiana on Thursday night.