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Onward Debate: The Success Of The Franklin Era So Far

Penn State football is in the midst of middling seasons the likes of which haven’t been seen since the early 2000s. Much blame is put on lingering effects of the sanctions, and much is put on the on-field product — namely, the coaching and execution of James Franklin. With two years at the helm of the Nittany Lions under his belt, our staff debated whether or not the Franklin era has been a success so far.

Patrick Koerbler: Success — Good Things Are On The Way

James Franklin came to Penn State with big expectations. Considering the unprecedented success he had at Vanderbilt and his reputation as an ace recruiter, Franklin was expected to return the program to national relevancy. Even though he’s led his inexperienced, youthful teams to back-to-back bowl game appearances, much of his tenure has been tumultuous. Whether it’s his conservative offensive philosophy, game clock management, lack of a signature win, or his part in the regression of former quarterback Christian Hackenberg, Franklin has been under attack — rightly or wrongly — for the better part of two years.

While the on-the-field product has been ugly at times, Franklin continues to bring more and more talent to Penn State. The two recruiting classes — 2012 and 2013 — prior to Franklin’s arrival were ranked Nos. 46 and 33, respectively, according to 247Sports’ composite rankings. The 2014 class, which Franklin was involved with for the final three weeks before signing day, was ranked No. 24. The 2015 class, his first full class at Penn State, finished the year ranked 14. And now he’s building another highly-ranked class, with the 2016 group currently ranked 14 with room to grow.

Franklin has his problems. That much can’t be disputed, but the Penn State faithful needs to understand the state of this program. It’s easy to forget the sanctions now that they’ve been rescinded, but the fact of the matter is that they are still having an effect on the Nittany Lions. Of the 85 scholarship players Penn State will have when the 2016 season kicks off, just 10 of those players (as of now) will be seniors, while 15 will have a junior standing. That means that 70.5 percent of the roster will have freshman or sophomore eligibility, making the Nittany Lions one of the youngest teams in the country.

Of course it’d be nice to have seen more progress in the last two seasons, but that doesn’t mean there still isn’t progress being made. The talent level has increased exponentially since Franklin took over in January 2014. As the seasons pass, this squad is becoming more and more filled with Franklin’s guys, rather than Paterno or O’Brien recruits.

The rebuilding of Penn State was never going to be a quick fix. Programs aren’t built overnight — ask Mark Dantonio of Michigan State or Dabo Swinney of Clemson — and the Nittany Lions aren’t any different. Franklin proved he could win at Vanderbilt, and in his first two seasons in Happy Valley he’s kept the program afloat when talent and depth were scarce. Until we get to year four of Franklin in 2017, it’s too soon to cast any real judgments.

Doug Leeson: Nooooope

I’m not saying James Franklin should be fired or even put on the hot seat (yet), but no one in or around the program should be satisfied with what we’ve seen the last two years.

The way I see it, success is a measure of accomplishing what should be done. There were two “shoulds” in the last few years — the first was that Penn State should have at least one losing record in the sanctions era, and Bill O’Brien and James Franklin managed to avoid that with at least seven wins in the last four years. That’s a success that set up others. The next should was that talent was in place, a mostly returning roster and coaching staff was here in 2015, and it should have torn apart an easy schedule. Finishing 7-6 having only beaten bad teams could’ve been a prediction from four years ago, but it wasn’t before the season.

To call 2015 a success, or even not a failure, is to pretend that the team wasn’t shot in the foot by bad offensive coordinating, game mismanagement from the head coach, and coming out of four winnable games (Temple, Northwestern, Michigan, and Georgia) 0-4.

Patrick’s right in that more talent is in place than in years past, but what good does it do if DaeSean Hamilton has all the talent in the world, then when teams gameplan at all against him, he has a down sophomore year? What good does it do if potential all-world tight end Mike Gesicki can’t catch in crucial moments, and what good does it do if three teams in the Big Ten East are arguably more talented?

There are flaws in the team that made 2015 worse than it should’ve been, and that’s why I think the James Franklin era hasn’t been a success so far. I’m optimistic about the future and I agree that the program is in a good spot (I’m very, very excited for Moorhead, Limegrover, and Pry), but there need to be on-field results in 2016 to turn around the public perception.

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