After yet another crushing loss, where does Penn State go from here? And where does James Franklin go from here?

That will be the backdrop for the next 2 months as No. 7 Penn State lost as a 24-point favorite against Illinois in 9 overtimes. The 20-18 defeat will be remembered for a lot of things, including being the longest game in FBS history (in which the under still hit!). But ultimately, it may be remembered as the beginning of the end for Franklin at Penn State.

It’s no secret that Franklin is a candidate for the 2 most prominent openings in college football — USC and LSU. Dennis Dodd, a national reporter for CBS Sports, believes there will be a “bidding war” for Franklin. Whether or not this loss changes that is unknown. It’s also no secret that Penn State fans have grown agitated with Franklin’s underperformance in key moments, particularly in close games.

Days like Saturday — losing at home, coming off a bye week, against one of the worst teams in the Big Ten — make it seem like it might be better for both if they went their separate ways. Penn State had opportunity after opportunity in regulation and in overtime to deliver the knockout punch, yet it failed time after time. The Nittany Lions have gone from being ranked No. 4 and leading the No. 3 team in its home stadium to being ranked 20th and unofficially eliminated from the Big Ten title and College Football Playoff races in a matter of 2 weeks. And with a potential beatdown looming in Columbus next week, Penn State may not even be ranked by this time next week.

How did it all go south (or west) so quickly?

The most obvious answer is that Penn State’s offense is broken. Yes, the Nittany Lions allowed the Illini’s 2 running backs to rush for 365 yards, but the bottom line is that they allowed 10 points in regulation and didn’t allow a TD for 7 overtimes. How much more can you ask of a defense? This is a defense that somehow won a game against Wisconsin despite being on the field for 43 minutes. The offense has underperformed all season, and Saturday was more of the same.

It’s obvious that Penn State is hurting at the QB position, literally and figuratively. Sean Clifford, who was knocked out of the Iowa game after taking a big hit to his ribs, returned against Illinois but was clearly not himself. Perhaps Clifford’s greatest strength is his ability to escape pressure and gut out tough runs. He couldn’t do anything close to that Saturday, as he took 4 sacks and finished with 5 rushes for minus-28 yards. He finished 19-of-34 for 165 yards (4.8 yards per attempt), and 89 of them came in the first quarter. In the final 3 quarters and 9 overtimes, Clifford was 16-of-31 for 76 yards. The question was, why was he even out there? With 2 weeks to prepare for this game, Franklin and offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich couldn’t get another QB ready to play against an Illinois defense that entered Saturday as the worst defense in the Big Ten? This goes back to the depth issue created this offseason when Will Levis (Kentucky) and Micah Bowens (Oklahoma) left the program, and Franklin didn’t bring in any new QBs.

The question is, what move can Franklin make to shore this up and get the program back on the right track? He is already on his third offensive coordinator in 3 years, and the latest OC, Yurcich, was handpicked from Texas. Penn State’s offense is as bad as it has been during his tenure, as they are averaging only 373.3 yards per game and have yet to break 30 points against a Power 5 opponent. Franklin can’t make any changes to a defensive staff that has helped Penn State climb to sixth nationally in allowing just 14.7 points per game.

That’s to say, maybe Franklin believes he has reached the ceiling at Penn State. He is under contract through 2025 and isn’t in danger of losing his job, but maybe those opportunities at USC and LSU become even more attractive depending on how this season finishes out. The upsides at each are obvious; at USC, there is no dominant program to compete with on the entire coast; and at LSU, he’d have as good of resources as any coach in the country, and probably be paid as good as any coach in the country not named Nick Saban. Franklin’s buyout is just $4 million, which isn’t much compared to the amount of money thrown around by athletic departments these days.

Given how difficult Penn State’s remaining schedule is with 3 top-10 opponents left, who knows how this all plays out. If the Nittany Lions can lose to Illinois at home, they can lose to anyone. This would be Franklin’s second down season in a row, so he maybe he views this as the right time for the next move in what has been a very good career.

But then again, maybe this isn’t the right time. Penn State’s 2022 recruiting class is currently ranked third nationally. Franklin plucked highly touted QB Drew Allar from Ohio despite the Buckeyes making a late push to get him.

With Franklin, the issue has never been building a program. Few would dispute his chops in that department, as he had 2 9-win seasons at Vandy and 3 double-digit win seasons at Penn State. The issue has been his in-game coaching. For example, how could Penn State come out this flat at home against a bottom-of-the-barrel West program off a bye week. Franklin-coached teams are 3-6 after bye weeks since 2014, including 3 straight losses.

A warning, though. The grass isn’t always greener. Maybe Penn State can do better, but it speaks volumes that Franklin feels permanently tied to the USC job and that he also will be a candidate with LSU.

If Penn State gets routed at Ohio State next week, can Franklin keep this team together once the rumor mill heats up and the coaching carousel starts to take shape?

Regardless of new rules, college football OT still trumps NFL model

Before we move on to the rest of the Big Ten, a quick word about the new overtime rules: I still love college overtime. I don’t think it’s even a debate, but college overtime is still leaps and bounds better than NFL overtime, regardless of how you feel about having a single 2-point conversion decide the game. Or in Penn State and Illinois’ case, 7 2-point conversions.

To those who were critical of the new format versus the old format, a few points in favor of what transpired Saturday:

  • The do-or-die plays are spectacular entertainment. Maybe it doesn’t feel fair to have a game come down to a 2-point conversion, but it’s not like each team didn’t have plenty of chances to separate itself; 60 minutes of regulation and 2 overtimes isn’t enough football? Football already has an all-or-nothing feel each week, and this takes it to another level.
  • Call me a killjoy, but I don’t need to see 84 points in an overtime, like when Texas A&M beat LSU 74-72 in 7 OTs back in 2018. The box score says Texas A&M QB Kellen Mond had 7 TDs, but 5 of them came in overtime. That doesn’t feel like an accurate representation of that game, and it distorts the record books.

Not that it would’ve happened, but how would you feel if Sean Clifford walked away from yesterday with a 6-TD game? That would’ve felt wrong.

Notebook

A look around the rest of the Big Ten.

Sports Betting in Big Ten Country

There is big news coming to the upcoming 2022-23 Big Ten football season (and NFL season). Ohio online sports betting and Maryland sports betting are on the way.

21+ and present in OH. Gambling Problem? Call 1-800-GAMBLER.

No. 6 Michigan 33, Northwestern 7. The stage is officially set. The Wolverines (7-0) will go into their game with now-No. 8 Michigan State undefeated. It seemed implausible to have 1 unbeaten at this stage. Both? You’d be very rich if you could’ve gotten odds on that in the preseason.

This win was perfectly unremarkable, as far as Michigan is concerned. There were a few red-zone issues, like OC Josh Gattis calling a run play to AJ Henning inside the 5 when he has TD machines Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum available. Then there was the fumble from Mike Sainristil. Michigan may have gotten too cute, which isn’t something that can happen against Michigan State, Penn State or Ohio State. Obviously.

Cade McNamara was about as you’d expect. He didn’t throw any interceptions, he completed 20 of 27 passes for only 129 yards. JJ McCarthy, the true freshman who is the QB of the future, came in and had impressive runs for 23 and 13 yards in addition to completing 3 of 5 for 34 yards. The calls for McCarthy will only grow louder if McNamara is unable to make big plays in the 3 big games coming up.

The hope for Michigan is that Corum and Haskins continue to produce like the duo did against Northwestern — and like they have all season in helping the Wolverines to the No. 5 rushing offense in the country.

The hottest QB in the Big Ten, and maybe the country is …

No. 5 Ohio State 54, Indiana 7. The Buckeyes could’ve named their score in this one. That was apparent after Jack Tuttle went down. He led a 15-play, 75-yard TD drive on Indiana’s opening possession. Without him, though, the Hoosiers managed -16 yards on 14 plays. Obviously that is game, set, match against an Ohio State team that broke 50 for the fourth straight game.

Because of the nature of this season and the absence of a true dominant player like Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields, CJ Stroud is squarely in the Heisman race. Stroud led Ohio State to a TD on 19 straight drives until the second half of this one. Over the last 3 games, he has 14 TD passes and no interceptions. Considering he had an INT in each of his first 3 games, that’s terrific progress. He is as locked in as can be.

Of course, the narrative with Stroud at Ohio State will always be, “Look who he has around him.” And yeah, that’s true. TreVeyon Henderson is already one of the best running backs in the country, Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson are among the top wideouts in the country, and the offensive line is among the best of the country.

But Stroud is balling.

The inside track in the West

Minnesota 34, Maryland 16. You have to admire the way Minnesota has pieced this all together. No matter who is out there, the Golden Gophers (5-2, 3-1) find a way. They lost to the best team in the Big Ten and one of the worst teams in the MAC, but they’ve beaten everyone in between.

The names change, but the script stays the same. Ky Thomas, who had 14 carries all season, erupted for 139 yards and a TD on 21 carries. True freshman Markeise Irving totaled 105 yards on 15 carries. Minnesota has had 5 different running backs run for 100 yards in a game this season, only the second B1G team to do that this century.

They’ve gotten creative, too, using Cole Kramer in the Wildcat to take some of the pressure of the RBs. Tanner Morgan, meanwhile, attempted only 12 passes yet still threw for 125 yards.

Maybe it’s too early to talk about Minnesota winning the West, but the Golden Gophers very well could be at 5-1 in the B1G going into the game against Iowa in Week 11. The closing schedule also includes Indiana, which is reeling, and an up-and-down Wisconsin team. Just a month ago, Minnesota as an 8 or 9-win team seemed improbable. But that’s the beauty of college football.

Now a pass-challenged Wisconsin, which beat No. 25 Purdue 27-13, is the tertiary contender. Year after year, there is no elite team in the West, and the door is open for Minnesota to get to Indianapolis.

MVPs

The best of the best from the weekend.

1. RB Chase Brown (Illinois)

Brown was unstoppable against a very good Penn State defense with 223 rushing yards and a TD on 33 attempts. Considering Illinois hasn’t had much of an aerial attack all season, that’s quite the accomplishment. And it was only his second-best game of the season, as he went for 257 against Charlotte.

2. RB Braelon Allen (Wisconsin)

The true freshman is already a star, as his 140 yards and 2 TDs on just 12 carries demonstrated. He has 3 straight 100-yard games.

3. RB Blake Corum (Michigan)

One of the most fun players to watch in the Big Ten, Corum racked up 143 yards from scrimmage, including 2 rushing scores. The sophomore is averaging over 6 yards per carry.

4. RB TreVeyon Henderson (Ohio State)

Henderson turned 10 touches into 95 yards and 3 TDs against Indiana. He is just 4 TDs away from Maurice Clarett’s freshman TD record of 18.

5. Minnesota’s offensive line

You have to hand it to the Golden Gophers, who continue to win up front each and every week and open up massive holes for whichever running back is healthy. Minnesota has a top-25 rushing offense thanks to these guys.