Time for contract extensions for Paul Chryst and James Franklin
Third in the West, fourth in the East.
Nobody was going to keep Ohio State or Michigan out of the B1G Championship Game this season. Iowa had 13 of its starters returning from a 12-0 campaign and Nebraska had some of the most experienced offensive weapons in the conference.
Penn State was just the mediator between the upper echelon and the cellar dwellers in the East. Wisconsin was the conference’s punching bag, taking too many hits from a brutal schedule that packed a mean right hook. Just surviving the season – for both teams – would be viewed as an accomplishment.
James Franklin and Paul Chryst never bought in to those roles. Neither guy accepted those third and fourth-placed predictions. Both facing tall obstacles and major setbacks, they trudged through the season focusing on each game one week at a time.
When the season ended last week both teams were 10-2. Wisconsin finished first in the West and Penn State ended first in the East. Both Chryst and Franklin were name B1G Coach of the Year winners.
So much for those preseason predictions.
Considering the circumstances that both Franklin and Chryst were forced to navigate entering the season, it’s an appropriate end to this whacky B1G season that the two will be on opposite sidelines in Lucas Oil Stadium, trying to leap one more hurdle in the chase for the conference title.
Both Penn State and Wisconsin lost their defensive coordinators in the offseason, Bob Shoop ditched the B1G East for the SEC East and joined Butch Jones at Rocky Top. Dave Aranda substituted those famous Wisconsin cheese curds for a Tiger Stadium-sized bowl of gumbo in Baton Rouge. Two of the better defensive minds in the league headed south.
If that wasn’t enough, Franklin and Chryst were also faced with a quarterback “controversy” heading into the season, hoping to find a replacements for the strong-armed Christian Hackenberg and the seasoned veteran Joel Stave.
And then there was the scheduling. Wisconsin opened the season against LSU, Penn State would play in-state rival Pitt in Week 2. Both teams would have to line up against Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Iowa.
It’s easy to see why they weren’t given much respect in those preseason media polls.
Somehow, though, both coaches found a way.
Chryst had things figured out from the beginning and it took Franklin a few weeks to get the kinks worked out.
Wiscosnin’s season-opening win over LSU was a good showing for the defense. And – even in losing efforts – that unit under Justin Wilcox proved something in tight battles with Michigan and Ohio State.
For Penn State, things didn’t start clicking until an overtime win against Minnesota. Sitting at 2-2 and Franklin’s seat increasing in temperature by the second, the Nittany Lions rallied for a 10-point deficit in the second half to beat the Gophers in overtime. Franklin’s team hasn’t lost since.
Both coaches got the quarterback situation figured out, too. Alex Hornibrook has been groomed as a game-manager and has been a perfect fit for the style of offense run in Madison. Trace Mcsorley, on the other hand, has been a sparkplug for Joe Moorhead’s offense.
Thanks to those adjustments, the two coaches enter Saturday’s contest with a combined 14-game winning streak.
Playing for a B1G title is a pretty sizeable reward for one coach who entered the year on the hot seat and another coach who was still considered unproven. But a conference championship bout isn’t enough for what Chryst and Franklin have done.
It’s time for both of them to be offered a contract extension.
Chryst has come in and lived up to Wisconsin’s standard, surpassed them some might even say. In a town where a 10-win season is commonplace, the former Badger hasn’t disappointed. In addition to playing in the team’s fourth B1G title game, he’s got the Badgers on the cusp of a College Football Playoff berth, thanks to wins over LSU, Nebraska and Iowa.
The Badgers have owned one of the nation’s top defenses once again and have shut down nearly everyone in their path.
In Happy Valley, the accomplishments seem even more unprecedented.
Penn State was a missed field goal away from a 2-3 start and Franklin was on the way out the door. But that win over Minnesota revitalized his team in a way that many didn’t think was possible. The Nittany Lions took down Ohio State for its first signature win in several years. In the final five games, the offense registered 232 points – or an average of 46.4 per game.
Not a bad turnaround for the conference’s worst offensive unit just two seasons ago.
While Chryst has kept the momentum going of a program already considered a powerhouse in the B1G, Franklin has elevated a middling Penn State team back into national relevance. Neither of those are easy tasks.
Chryst did already receive a contract extension at the end of last season. Right now, he’ll be with Wisconsin through the 2021 season. Franklin’s initial contract keeps him in State College through 2020.
Is that enough, though? Not for what either of these guys have done this season. Lucrative contract deals should be in the works in Madison and Happy Valley first thing on Monday morning.
Chryst and Franklin have proven they’re worth the investment.