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Ranking Penn State’s 8 James Franklin-era Openers

Thursday night’s game at Purdue will be Penn State’s ninth season opener since James Franklin became head coach.

This article will rank the first eight, from worst to best. Let’s get into it.

8. 2020: INDIANA 36, PENN STATE 35 (OT)

Penn State has lost two openers in the Franklin-era, so the bottom two spots are obvious.

The Indiana loss, however, is No. 8 because the program still hasn’t fully recovered from it.

Penn State started its 2020 season ranked in the top ten, having gone 42–10 over its previous four seasons.

After it lost to Indiana in crushing and controversial fashion (most Penn State fans think Indiana quarterback Michael Penix’s knee was down on the game’s defensive two point conversion), it went on to lose its next four games to start 0-5 for the first time in school history, and is just 11-10 overall since.

If Penn State beat Indiana, maybe things wouldn’t be that different. What’s indisputable, however, is that the program is in a worse state almost two years later than it was before the Indiana game.

7. 2015: TEMPLE 27, PENN STATE 10

Although losing to Temple for the first time since before World War II certainly stunk for Penn State, this game is ranked ahead of the Indiana loss because it didn’t do much long-term damage.

When Penn State started its 2015 season, Franklin was in his second season. The program went 7-6 in Year 1 and still suffered from the famous NCAA sanctions placed in 2012, despite said sanctions being lifted in 2014.

So the team wasn’t expected to be a Big Ten title contender the way the 2020 team was, and the year would have probably only been marginally better if Penn State started 1-0.

The 2015 team finished 7-6, winning three fewer games than Temple, who kicked Penn State’s teeth in and left no doubt as to who deserved the win.

Fortuently for Penn State, the years ahead would be much better.

6. 2018: Penn State 45, App State 38 (OT)

If this list ranked Penn State’s most exciting openers in the Franklin era, this would be in the top two, probably finishing second behind Indiana 2020.

But overall, this ranks the lowest of Penn State’s 1-0 starts under Franklin. The team coughed up a 31-17 fourth quarter lead and fell behind 38-31 with less than two minutes left.

KJ Hamler returned the ensuing kickoff into App State territory, setting up Trace McSorley to lead a 7-play, 48-yard game-tying drive.

App State moved the ball on the last drive of regulation to set up a winning field goal attempt, but the kick was no good and the game went to overtime.

In OT, Penn State got the ball first and scored on a 4-yard Miles Sanders run. On App State’s possession, Amani Oruwariye ended the game with an end zone interception.

Exciting football for sure, but Penn State fans never want to see their team go into overtime with Appalachian State.

5. 2016: PENN STATE 33, KENT STATE 13

Not much to say about this one. Penn State was supposed to beat Kent State, and it did.

4. 2019: PENN STATE 79, IDAHO 7

The score speaks for itself. 79 points is a lot. In fact, it’s the second-most in Penn State history since 1921 and the sixth most overall.

Oh, and it also had this hit by then-true freshman linebacker Brandon Smith, playing in his first college game.

3. 2017: PENN STATE 52, AKRON 0

The game itself wasn’t memorable, but the reason this cracks the top three is because of the feeling surrounding the game.

It was Penn State’s first game at Beaver Stadium since winning the 2016 Big Ten title, and more was expected of the 2017 team than had been of any Penn State squad in the 2010s.

The 2017 team had realistic college football playoffs aspirations, and although that goal wasn’t met, Penn State playing a home game as defending Big Ten camps was neat for the program.


Dublin, Ireland. Franklin’s first game at Penn State.

A game-winning field goal as time expired.

A pretty awesome way to open the season, but one entry tops it.

1. 2021: PENN STATE 17, WISCONSIN 12

An easy choice for No. 1.

Penn State went into Madison to play higher-ranked Big Ten team and came out with a win.

We all know the rest of 2021 didn’t go as planned, but after beating Wisconsin, it felt like the beginning of something big for Penn State.

Almost a year to the date, Penn State fans are hoping a win at Purdue could end up being what the Wisconsin win wasn’t.





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