James Franklin has resurrected the Penn State program into a national contender again, guiding the Nittany Lions through the tumultuous post-Joe Paterno era to what they are today: A real challenger in the Big Ten East.
Franklin went 7-6 in his first two seasons and he was immediately on the hot seat going into Year 3. The proud Nittany Lions were 6-10 in the Big Ten during those lean early years as Franklin talked a positive message and development for the future.
Then the 2016 season came, Penn State went to the Rose Bowl and had an argument to be in the College Football Playoff. It lost in one of the best bowl games in recent memory as USC staged a late comeback.
The Lions went 11-2 the following season and a respectable 9-4 last year heading into what was supposed to be somewhat of a rebuilding year. Instead, this season Penn State is 9-2 with losses only at Minnesota and Ohio State. Saturday looked like another blowout in Columbus until Penn State fought back and had its chances to tie the game late - or even take the lead.
It didn’t happen but as many said after the game, the loss actually could be a win because the Nittany Lions stormed back and showed courage and toughness in defeat.
Penn State hosts Rutgers to finish out the regular season so the Lions should finish 10-2 heading into a big-time bowl game.
But something popped up again Saturday, a plane flying over Ohio State’s stadium that read: Penn State: Why Are You Waiting? Honor Joe Paterno!
It was unexpected but also served a stark reminder that there is still a portion of the Penn State faithful who feels Paterno and his family were not treated properly during the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Franklin is right in the middle of it - and he can soon have other options.
Born in Pennsylvania, Franklin went to East Stroudsburg and he’s now firmly established as the Penn State football coach.
But what if USC comes calling? With Ohio State and an improved Michigan in the division, has Franklin maxed out what is possible with the Nittany Lions? Would coaching in a talent-rich area like Los Angeles be more beneficial to Franklin - and give him a new challenge to attack? Or would staying at Penn State and building upon his own success mean even more? We ask Rivals National Recruiting Director Mike Farrell.
“Franklin should stay. There’s no doubt about that. He’s done a good job building Penn State back into a playoff contender. The Nittany Lions fan base can be up and down at times, but it’s rabid and very faithful. The passion for USC football is low comparatively and even when you win big as Pete Carroll did, it just doesn’t feel the same.
"Sure, Franklin could recruit like crazy out there, land most of the top players and perhaps build a juggernaut, but winning a national title at Penn State would be much more special and still can be done. The East doesn’t look so bad these days with Michigan State way down and Michigan not emerging as a true threat. He should stay put and keep building.”