10 Years After Sanctions, Penn State Football Ranks No. 15 In Wins Since 2012

The offseason after Penn State football’s 2011 campaign marked one of the most tumultuous stretches of uncertainty faced by any program in college football history.

From the break of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, the mid-season firing of Joe Paterno, and the surprise hiring of Bill O’Brien just five days following the squad’s TicketCity Bowl beat down loss against Houston, the future of the Nittany Lions appeared to be bleaker than ever before.

At the time, most of the sport’s most prominent analysts thought Penn State football would be in dire straits not only for the near future but for a considerable period spanning across decades to come. Ten years later, the Nittany Lions shattered expectations with 82 on-field victories, good for No. 15 of 131 FBS schools, and even eclipsed more wins than blue blood teams like Michigan, Florida, Texas, Miami, and USC.

Penn State’s 82 win total tied for fourth among Big Ten teams, with Iowa holding the same numbeer of victorious efforts over the past decade. Michigan State narrowly edged the Nittany Lions in the triumph category with 83 wins, while Michigan barely trailed Penn State with 81 wins of its own.

To no surprise, Ohio State has served as the beacon of achievement within the conference over the past decade, largely thanks to the hiring of Urban Meyer ahead of the 2012 campaign. With the Buckeyes, Meyer boasted an 83-9 record in eight years at the helm. During his tenure, then-third-year coach Penn State head coach James Franklin snapped Meyer’s stellar 22-game conference road winning streak during the Nittany Lions’ 24-21 White Out upset in 2016.

Following Meyer’s departure from Columbus, Ryan Day continued the Buckeyes’ winning ways almost seamlessly. The former offensive coordinator has since led Ohio State to a 34-4 record, with only one of the defeats coming to a Big Ten opponent.

Over the cycle, Penn State amassed a winning percentage of just over 61% under the direction of O’Brien and Franklin, with the latter set to begin his ninth campaign in Happy Valley this fall. Overall, O’Brien guided the sanction-ridden Nittany Lions to a 15-9 record, while Franklin has accumulated a 67-32 mark since 2014.

From 2016 to 2019, Penn State picked up 42 wins, equating to the most in a four-year span since joining the Big Ten in 1993. During that time, only Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, and Oklahoma tallied more victories than the Nittany Lions, with Wisconsin sitting neck-and-neck with 42 wins, too.

If Penn State had continued its trajectory beginning in 2016, which happened to result in Franklin’s lone Big Ten title year in Happy Valley, it likely would’ve become one of six programs with 90 wins or more since the 2012 benchmark.

Despite continuous grumblings from Nittany Nation in response to Penn State’s most recent two-year stint of less-than-ideal football, the accumulation of 82 wins, a Big Ten title, three New Year’s Six bowl game appearances, and Fiesta Bowl and Cotton Bowl wins is nothing short of remarkable considering the circumstances.

Ten years ago, the program stared down a $60 million dollar fine, an 85-to-65 reduction in scholarships, a five-year probation period, and a four-year postseason ban without any plan of clarity to fall back on. Although most of the sanctions, including the bowl ban and the decrease in scholarships, were lifted on September 8, 2014, it was still tough sledding to lift Penn State football out of its darkest time in history and return it to the household name current students know it to be today.

For the next 10-year period beginning in September 2022, the future of the Nittany Lions is prepped to continue on an upward trajectory. In February, Penn State officially inked a No. 6 recruiting class in the country, per 247Sports. Moreover, since Franklin took the job eight seasons ago, the Nittany Lions have yet to sign a class ranked outside the top-25 rankings.

While it’s easy to criticize Franklin and Co. on the heels of an 11-11 showing over the program’s latest two campaigns, it’s important to realize how far the program has come since the dog days of 2012. Along with the 82 wins Penn State has added, increased expectations have also come hand-in-hand.

Heading into the next decade, Penn State will be expected to compete for national championships on an annual basis — an anticipation that is a direct byproduct of the groundwork laid by O’Brien and Franklin’s sanction mitigation.

To think that the Nittany Lions were on the brink of the proverbial death penalty 10 years ago, the recovery’s magnitude is often overlooked. However, its impact will always be remembered as an era of return rather than one concluding in a recent two-year anomaly of underachievement.

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About the Author

Connor Krause

Connor Krause is a senior from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania double majoring in journalism and business. He is a lifelong Penn State football and basketball fan and enjoys rooting for Pittsburgh sports teams. In his free time, Connor can be found playing golf or pick-up basketball. You can follow his Twitter and Instagram @ckrause_31.

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