It wasn’t too long ago when Penn State University was hit with arguably the biggest scandal in college football history. The NCAA slammed Penn State with unprecedented sanctions including a bowl ban and a loss of scholarships. It looked as if this was the end of Penn State football.
Now let’s flash forward to 2014. Penn State lost head coach Bill O’Brien to the Houston Texans and replaced him with James Franklin, a relatively unknown coach that led Vanderbilt to its highest ranking since the 2008 season. Happy Valley didn’t know it yet, but this move would bring Penn State back to being a perennial top-15 college football team.
In his first two seasons at Penn State, Franklin led his team to back-to-back 7-6 seasons. Despite these mediocre seasons, he brought Happy Valley its first bowl game win since the 2009 season by beating Boston College 31-30 in the Pinstripe Bowl in 2014.
In 2015, James Franklin brought in Joe Moorhead as the new offensive coordinator of the team. Moorhead was the head coach of Fordham from 2012-2015 and led Fordham to a combined 38-13 record in his tenure there.
This hire proved to be the final piece of the puzzle. In 2015, Penn State averaged 348 yards per game. In 2016, Joe Moorhead’s first season with Penn State, the Nittany Lions averaged more than 430 yards per game. Moorhead’s prolific offensive scheme led Penn State to an 11-3 record,a Big Ten Championship title, a top 5 poll ranking, and a trip to the Rose Bowl.
Franklin and Moorhead were a match made in heaven. Every time the offense took the field, there was always a scoring threat. Their dominance came to an end after the 2017 season when Joe Moorhead left to be the head coach at Mississippi State University.
After Moorhead left, Penn State’s had a drastic decline on the offensive side of the football. They averaged 33.8 points per game and finished 9-4 on the season in 2018 after averaging 41.1 points per game and an 11-2 record in 2017. Another factor that led to this decline is that Saquon Barkley, Mike Gesicki, Chris Godwin, and Saeed Blacknall all went to the NFL.
Many fans wanted Franklin gone, especially after Penn State’s bowl loss to Kentucky, where several questionable coaching decisions were made throughout the game.
However, it is way too early to put Franklin on the hot seat. First of all, he lost 15 starters to the NFL. You heard that right. Penn State’s 2018 team was so inexperienced compared to recent Penn State teams.
Second, all of Penn State’s losses were to really good football teams. With the exception of Ohio State, every team that defeated Penn State had a top-20 ranked defense. Kentucky ranked 6th, Michigan State ranked 9th, and Michigan ranked 16th.
It is way too premature to put James Franklin on the hot seat after all he’s done for the program. If you asked any Penn State fan in 2012, they would have been ecstatic with a 9-4 record. In 2019, Franklin has a much more experienced offense and a top 5 defense at his disposal. Expect James Franklin to bounce back with a 10 win season and to quiet his critics in 2019.