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Franklin Discusses Penn State’s Path to ‘Elite’

COLUMBUS, OH - OCTOBER 30: Head coach James Franklin of the Penn State Nittany Lions looks on during the game between the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Penn State Nittany Lions at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio on October 30, 2021.(Photo by Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire)

James Franklin’s most famous postgame statement happened after a loss to Ohio State. 

Penn State should have beat Ohio State in 2018. Two four-quarter touchdowns and a controversial decision to run the ball on fourth-and-5 from the Ohio State 43 with 1:16 left helped Ohio State to a 27-26 win. 

After the game, Franklin made his statement.

“We are a great program,” Franklin told reporters in his postgame press conference. “We lost to an elite program. We have gotten comfortable being great. We will no longer be comfortable being great.”


There was plenty more that Franklin said, but the gist of it was that Penn State needed to take the next step.


Well, Penn State responded by losing another heartbreaker at Beaver Stadium to Michigan State in its next game.

The team finished the 2018 season 9-4, getting blown out by Michigan in Ann Arbor the first weekend of November and losing to Kentucky in the Citrus Bowl to end the year on a sour note. 

Penn State bounced back to go 11-2 in 2019, but 2020 and 2021 were underwhelming. 

The number 11 has been referenced by Penn State fans a lot this year, not just because of Abdul Carter. 11 is the number of games Penn State won and lost over the 2020 and 2021 seasons. 

In 2020, the season practically ended before it began. In the nine-game, pandemic-themed campaign, Penn State started the year ranked No. 8, controversially lost its season-opener to Indiana and then started 0-5 for the first time in school history. 

This week, Penn State will host Ohio State at noon in a packed Beaver Stadium– the pandemic limited attendance for the 2020 game in Happy Valley– for the first time since that 2018 game that led to Franklin’s passionate statement. 

So how close is Penn State to being elite?

“I think a lot of things have changed since then,” Franklin said Tuesday in his weekly presser. “We talked a lot this offseason about a new president in Dr. [Neeli] Bendapudi and new athletic director in [Dr.] Pat Kraft. That factors into all of this; there’s no doubt about it. I think there’s things within our program that you look at, whether it’s from a development standpoint, whether it’s a facility standpoint, whether it’s a nutrition standpoint, whether it’s recruiting. All the things that you talk about in terms of building a program, I think some areas we have made significant progress in and others, we still have work to do.”

Franklin’s answer didn’t reveal much. In short, the coach feels Penn State is doing well in some aspects and can improve in others.

“I think, in a lot of ways, we’ve taken some steps in the right direction,” Franklin said, “but there’s still some areas that we need to get resolved. You know, that’s why I think I voiced this over and over again, the excitement I have for the leadership that we have in those two positions, and that’s with total respect and appreciation for the past as well.”


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