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The Next Step: James Franklin Will Get This Done

James Franklin called his shot on Saturday night, vowing that his program will take the next step.

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NCAA Football: Big Ten Football Media Day Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Following Saturday’s loss, James Franklin gave an emotional opening statement at his press conference, talking about how Penn State needs to and will take the next step as a program.

We have gotten comfortable being great. We will no longer be comfortable being great. We’re gonna learn from this, we’re gonna grow from this, and we’re going to find a way to take that next step as a program because we’ve been knocking at the door long enough. And it’s my job as the head coach, I’m ultimately responsible for all of it. I will find a way — we will find a way — and with the support of everybody in this community, on this campus, the lettermen, and everybody else: we are going to get this done. I give you my word. We are going to find a way to take the next step... We’re done being great.

Personally, I was as dejected leaving the stadium as anyone. Penn State had that game, and for the second time in as many years, couldn’t close it out. But when I saw the video of an impassioned, angry James Franklin slamming his fist on the desk saying they will “get this done” — I mean, I just loved it. I said this in so many words on the BSBP, but for as much as I like Franklin, he has a way of putting on a facade in front of the media that I’m not always onboard with. So it was refreshing to see him with those walls down, to see him put it all out there, and — in some sense — make a recommitment to what this program will become.

That process won’t be an easy one. As Franklin said, taking that step from “great” to “elite” will be an uncomfortable one for all involved. But fortunately, the Nittany Lions are already on the right track in the most obvious step: bringing in more talent.

Is Penn State a talented team right now? Absolutely, one of the most talented in the country. But there’s still so much growth potential, especially defensively. Just look at the starters (both 4-3-4 and 4-2-5) on defense against the Buckeyes and their 247Sports Composite ranking:

  • Shareef Miller: 86.81 (★★★)
  • Yetur Gross-Matos: 92.23 (★★★★)
  • Kevin Givens: 84.98 (★★★)
  • Robert Windsor: 84.53 (★★★)
  • Koa Farmer: 88.07 (★★★)
  • Jan Johnson: 75.00 (★★)
  • Cam Brown: 89.70 (★★★★)
  • Nick Scott: 86.34 (★★★)
  • Garrett Taylor: 94.41 (★★★★)
  • John Reid: 94.45 (★★★★)
  • Amani Oruwariye: 85.56 (★★★)
  • Tariq Castro-Fields: 89.67 (★★★★)

That’s six three-stars, five four-stars, and one two-star walk-on to give you an average rating of 87.65, which is a mid-three-star prospect ranked in the 550-ish area.

But you know what? They still dominated the Buckeyes through the first 52 minutes. Now, just imagine the difference it will make in another year or two when every player on the field is a four-star or better, because with the way Penn State recruited in 2018 and is recruiting in 2019, that’s the help that’s coming in. Of the last 40 recruits to sign with/commit to Penn State, 72.5% of them have been four-or-five-star prospects — that is taking the next step.

Of course, this isn’t to say Saturday night’s defeat was all on the players. It wasn’t. From James Franklin to Ricky Rahne to Brent Pry and down the line, the coaches were just as much a part of the loss. As we saw on that 4th-and-5 call, they need to do a better job of putting the players in a position to succeed. But, there is a reason the most successful head coaches in college football tend to sign the best recruiting classes: because the Jimmy’s and Joe’s can mask a lot of the blunders in the X’s and O’s — especially when the “Jimmy” is a 6-foot-4, 228-pound five-star linebacker named Brandon Smith.

I understand that even for the most optimistic fan this doesn’t make up for Saturday night’s disappointment. When Penn State goes up 12 points on anybody with just eight minutes to go, it should win the game. But, again, a little perspective here: we are talking about one point. Despite the talent disparity right now, the Nittany Lions are on the cusp. While it’s frustrating to lose in such heartbreaking fashion again, I won’t let a one-point loss to the No. 3 team in the country change how I feel about where Penn State is headed.

Perhaps my optimism falls on deaf ears. That’s fine. We all had different expectations for this season, and with mine being on the more reserved end of things, that might be playing a factor in how I view this loss. But I swear to all that is good, I wouldn’t be standing firmly in Franklin’s corner if I didn’t truly believe in him. If I thought he couldn’t get this done — which, to be honest, I questioned when Penn State went down 28-7 against Pitt in 2016 — I would say it. But Franklin delivered on bringing this program back from the doldrums of mediocrity, all while making uncomfortable decisions in the process. For me, there’s no reason to think he won’t deliver on it again.

So be mad about the result on Saturday night. Be disappointed that Penn State let one slip away again. But remember the strides this program has made in just two years time. Remember where this program is headed.

And, most of all, remember — James Franklin will get this done.