Hard to believe this James Franklin guy has made it to a fifth season at Penn State. Dude’s a mediocre high school coach at best.

The Lions should be riding a 33-game winning streak and defending the national championship. Instead, they’ve lost five times by a total of 12 points over the past 31 outings. Despite superior talent and fourth-quarter leads in all those games, they lost five of them! Franklin owns just one B1G championship through four full seasons as the head man in Happy Valley.

C’mon, Joe Paterno won the B1G title or had at least a tie for the best record in league play THREE TIMES! That’s almost 16 percent of Paterno’s 19 years in the Big Ten. That’s, that’s … well, okay, that’s not quite as good as Franklin’s 25 percent, or the 20 percent he’ll be at after this year, but still.

It’s not like Ohio State has at least a share of league supremacy 11 times against Penn State’s four since the Lions joined the league in 1993. … What’s that? It is like that? Oh. Well, how hard is it to leapfrog one program in this crappy league? What’s that? Wisconsin (6) and Michigan (5) have topped the league more than PSU during the Lions’ 25 years in the conference, too?

Next you’re going to tell me those programs have huge stadiums; passionate if sometimes unreasonable fan bases; and tons of history, tradition and resources — just like Penn State.

I can hear it now. After No. 5 Michigan (7-1, 5-0) crushes the No. 14 Lions (6-2, 3-2) on Saturday in Ann Arbor, the angel-on-the-shoulder half of the fan base is going to preach patience and faith. They’ll say this young team is working hard and is probably a year or two away from the elite season we’re all awaiting.


Okay, to be fair, let’s give Franklin a pass on Years 1 and 2. Penn State was coming off sanctions and stuck with a quarterback that didn’t fit the new scheme. Couldn’t have expected much more than .500 for that stretch, so two 7-6 campaigns with bowl games — that’s acceptable.

Since then, though, PSU is 28-7. Yeah, that’s an .800 winning percentage. But they’re a mere 5-6 against ranked opponents. In Paterno’s best three-season stretch of this millennium (2007-09), he went 5-3. Of course, his teams lost five times to unranked teams in that same stretch. Franklin’s teams have lost once to an unranked foe — Week 2 of 2016 vs. Pitt, 42-39 — during the Trace McSorley era.

That Franklin, he wins the games he’s supposed to win. He’s never lost while coaching a ranked school against an unranked program in his eight years at the FBS level. Big whoop.

Around these parts, people are used to winning more than their fair share against the big boys. Sure, the Lions are only 23-44 against ranked foes this century. But, you know, before then …

Since Paterno started his 46-year head coaching stint in 1966, the Nittany Lions average a national championship every quarter century or so, the most recent one a mere 32 seasons back. There have been five perfect seasons in that time, the last one only 24 years ago. What? You’re going to argue life was easier as an independent just because the 12-0 team in 1973 played all three military academies and never faced a top 10 team? You Franklin apologists, you’re killing me!

All right, all right. He’s doing okay. For now.

But how dare he get our hopes up like he has, talking about his team already being great and supposedly on the fast track to elite status. The Lions have entered 28 straight games as a ranked team, but only 19 of those as a top 10 squad. Pretty good, I guess. But great? Elite? This program that hangs right with Ohio State but keeps coming up a point short?

Before Franklin came around, PSU won 7 times in 21 B1G matchups against the Buckeyes. That’s 1 out of 3! Franklin is only 1 of 5, and the last two have been heart-breakers. We’re supposed to feel good about having a chance in every game right down till the bitter end? You think we like this edge-of-the-seat excitement week after week?

How soon until we reach Alabama’s level? Drama-less routs, week after week: that’s what we want. Am I right? Isn’t that what college football is all about?

The nerve of this Franklin guy, coming in here with the rah-rah talk, the wholesome values, the slick sales pitches and the big ideas. It’s annoying, I tell you.

Let’s break it down:

  • He arrives with an offensive philosophy that makes Penn State more fun to watch than it’s ever been, then finds the perfect coordinator and perfect quarterback to make it hum. Did he not know Joe Moorhead would excel to the point of getting a head coaching gig in the SEC after only two years? Franklin didn’t see that coming? And then, the gall, Franklin promotes from within. Worse, it’s been more than half a season and he’s still sticking with Ricky Rahne! Since when has staff loyalty been a thing at Penn State? I mean, other than Fran Ganter and Tom Bradley serving three-plus decades apiece under Paterno. Just because some guys named Barkley, Gesicki and Hamilton have left for the NFL, some people want to give Rahne a pass. It’s crazy. They’re probably the same folks who think defensive coordinator Brent Pry’s unit is progressing just fine, too. Polyannas.
  • You know, Franklin’s a great recruiter, but he sure can’t coach come game day. The go-for-it calls on fourth down that didn’t work: all bad play calls. I was right with him on the ones that did work, of course. He and Rahne whiff way too much on late-game play calls needed to score or run out the clock. Can’t imagine that’s going to get better with time and experience. He sometimes wastes timeouts — calls them when the clock is already stopped. Iced his own kicker last week before halftime. Said the play clock was about to run out and he needed to save the 5 yards. I’m not buying it. It’s all so clear from the couch. Franklin needs to get a direct line to one or more of the Facebook groups I’m on — that’s the ticket. Things are so clear from the comfort of the living room. We could talk him through the sticky situations.
  • And what about that first quarter last week against Iowa? Punter can’t catch a snap — bad coaching. Long snapper sails one out of the end zone for another safety — bad coaching. Strong-armed Tommy Stevens doesn’t take over for McSorley to start the second half … oh, wait, that one kinda worked out.
  • Speaking of Stevens, the young man hasn’t played much this season. Yet he still says he loves it at Penn State, wouldn’t want to play anywhere else. Trying to be the best teammate he can be. What kind of coaching staff fosters attitudes like that in 2018? It’s not natural, I tell ya.
  • Off the field, it’s even worse. Franklin spends way too much time caring about his players as students and people. Claims to love them unconditionally. Where’d he get the idea that kind of crap would play to the Penn State faithful? He’s so polite with the media it actually struck one of my colleagues as funny. Hypes the game day experience — #107,000-strong, Penn State whiteout should be on people’s bucket list, letterman bus for Homecoming game. Who needs this feel-good vibe in today’s day and age? Who needs this party atmosphere? Bring back that sourpuss Bill O’Brien, I say.

There you have it. I hope that’s clear enough. James Franklin is passionate, loyal, innovative, decent and successful. Football game days are more exhilarating than they’ve been in a long, long time. But that’s not enough. We need to beat Ohio State and Michigan every year and win a national title or two each decade.

Given this program’s rich history and tradition, I’m really only willing to give Franklin a couple more decades to get this right.