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Recent Spiral Widens Gap Between Penn State Football & Program’s Expectations

With 908 all-time wins, 50 bowl game appearances, and 665 total weeks in the AP Top 25 Poll, Penn State’s football program is among the best ever. The program has claimed two national championships (1982 and 1986) in its history and has reached the top of the mountain.

But here we are, with James Franklin’s team currently sitting outside the AP Top 25 Poll and College Football Playoff picture for the second straight season. Over the past two years, Penn State owns a mediocre 10-9 record, which is a far cry from the usual excellence the program has offered in the past.

Some have written off last season as an unusual one that didn’t count, largely thanks to the pandemic’s extenuating circumstances. However, every team dealt with those challenges, and quite frankly, it’s not an excuse.

Penn State has been the definition of an inconsistent, average football team over the past two seasons. What was once labeled as a “fluke” 2020 season has turned into a continuation of the same underwhelming, uninspiring play in 2021.

For a program that has been built on winning, the last two years just aren’t acceptable. After the latest loss to Michigan, Franklin acknowledged that Penn State’s recent struggles aren’t OK, but he also expressed how proud he is of his team and its toughness.

“No, [it’s not good enough],” Franklin said. “I get it. I get it. But I’m proud of those guys in the locker room. I’m proud of the coaching staff. We’ll find a way to get a win next week.”

Again, during his weekly press conference on Tuesday, Franklin emphasized how hard his team played against Michigan and said his team “had a chance to win the game.”

Penn State’s student-athletes work hard, and I’m not denying that. However, where are the results? You can preach “1-0” only so much before starting to sound like a broken record. If you aren’t actually going 1-0 every week, why should people believe you and buy into it?

Franklin says he preaches that mantra to establish consistency within the program.

“It’s something that’s been good to us over my career all the way back to Vanderbilt and now at Penn State,” Franklin said. “That’s the challenge, right? Getting young people or people in general to be as consistent as you possibly can. You’re constantly hearing voices and noise from the outside about ‘this game is bigger than this game,’ and I think that’s where you have to be careful. You get on an emotional rollercoaster.

“So, we just try to keep it as consistent as we can,” he continued. “It’s always about us, and try to make sure we do everything we possibly can through our week, of our process of getting ready in terms of how we gameplan and how we practice from an installation standpoint so that we’re peaking at the right time both physically and emotionally.”

There’s nothing wrong with Franklin and his squad blocking out the noise and staying focused on what needs to get done within the program. That’s honestly a great way to run your program.

However, feeding the same spiel to your fanbase week in and week out isn’t the right way to do it. Repeatedly saying you’re just trying to go “1-0” every week when you’re clearly not going “1-0” each week will only anger your fanbase more and make them hungrier for results.

Things suck right now, and it doesn’t take a genius to know that. It’s on the program, starting with Franklin, to be transparent and stop preaching the same old company line everyone is so tired of hearing.

At this point, it’s clear Penn State isn’t a top-tier program. While the past two years certainly show us that, it goes back even further.

To be a top-tier program in college football, you need to beat other top teams, of course. During Franklin’s time at Penn State, the Nittany Lions are a dreadful 2-13 against top-10 teams, including nine straight losses against them dating back to 2016.

The only two wins against top-10 teams both came in 2016 against No. 2 Ohio State and then-No. 8 Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship game. Since then, Penn State has been completely failed when going up against some of the best teams in the country.

It’s obviously understood that beating a top-10 team isn’t an easy task. But for a team that has such a rich history of winning and success, you need to beat top teams. That’s something Franklin has never consistently achieved.

So, who’s ultimately to blame? Is it fair to just blame Franklin for all the team’s struggles? Not quite, as in reality, he’s done a lot for the program and is a good coach. He was critical to Penn State’s mid-2010s turnaround and Big Ten title. Currently, I doubt you’d find a better coach on the market to potentially replace him.

However, Franklin being a “good” coach isn’t enough. Just like if the Nittany Lions were a good team right now (they’re not even that), that wouldn’t be good enough.

As Franklin said more than three years ago, Penn State isn’t an elite program. If anything, it’s further away now than it it’s ever been since Franklin made that speech after that one-point loss to Ohio State.

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About the Author

Gabe Angieri

Gabe is a junior majoring in journalism and is an associate editor for Onward State. He grew up in Lindenhurst, New York, and has had the absolute misfortune of rooting for the Jets, Mets, and Knicks. If you want to see his bad sports takes, follow him on Twitter @gabeangieri and direct all hate mail and death threats to [email protected]

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