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Franklin: To Compete With America’s Best, Penn State Must Embrace Modern College Football

Photo by Matt Lynch, Nittany Sports Now: James Franklin leads the Nittany Lions out of the tunnel ahead of the blue white game.

James Franklin has won a lot at Penn State.

PSU has ended five of the past eight season with double-digit wins. 

Under Franklin, the team’s won the Rose, Cotton and Fiesta Bowls. So Franklin can say that he’s had success in his decade in Happy Valley.

But that isn’t enough for many Penn State fans. Whether it’s fair or not, plenty of people measure schools with Penn State’s tradition by two things; conference championships and national championships. 

Franklin accomplished the former in 2016. But with how much has changed in college sports since then, that feels like a long time ago. It also didn’t help that, although Penn State had a strong case to be one of the four College Football Playoff teams that season, the committee left Penn State out. The four-team era of the CFP ended with this year’s national championship game– won by one of Penn State’s rivals, Michigan– and ended without Franklin and Penn State making it to the dance. 

Now, it’s a new era.

Starting this season, 12 teams will make the Playoff.

If that format existed from 2016-2023, Franklin and Penn State would have qualified six times in eight seasons. That fact opens the door for plenty of hypotheticals.

Would the perception of PSU’s football be different with six playoff berths instead of zero?

How many playoff games would Penn State have won?

Would one of those teams have ended up playing for a national title?

We’ll never know the answers. But what we do know is that the next decade should be quite interesting.

It’s hard to imagine what college football will look like in 2034. Franklin’s contract runs until 2031. So who knows what he’ll be doing at that time (he’ll be 62 in ten years). 

One thing that’s for sure is that if Penn State only wins one Big Ten title over the next decade while others, namely Ohio State and Michigan, have more success, fairly or not, many PSU fans won’t be happy.

In an interview with Franklin, one of his former players, QB Christian Hackenberg, now working for State Media, asked Franklin what Penn State needs to do to get to a championship level consistently.

For Franklin, the key is to not run from what modern college football looks like. 

“I think the thing that I would say is we have to embrace everything that comes with college football,” Franklin said. “If you want to be a team that’s literally competing for national championships year in and year out, you can’t pick and choose what you’re going to compete in. 

“You can’t say, well, facilities are important, we don’t need them at Penn State. You can’t say that recruiting isn’t important. You can’t say that offense, defense, special teams aren’t important. You can’t say that development isn’t important. You can’t say NIL isn’t important. “

Franklin said the reality is that “every single area needs to be competing and operating at the highest level.”

“We can’t rationalize or justify why we don’t need to do it in a certain area,” he said. “That’s just not how it works. I’ve been a coach in the SEC. I know how that league works and operates at the very highest level and the same thing now in the Big Ten. I think I have a pretty good perspective on it.”

This year’s Penn State team should be right in the mix for a Playoff spot, with key players such as QB Drew Allar returning on offense and DE Abdul Carter on defense. For many, a playoff berth in the new format will be the bare minimum going forward.

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