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Midweek Musings - What Will It Take for Penn State to Win a National Championship?

Can Penn State win a mythical national championship any time soon?

Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

One of my favorite things about BSD is the community - it’s what drew me to the site in the first place, made me stay, and ultimately led me to becoming a writer.

One of your fellow commenters sent me an email the other day with an idea for an article, asking the following question:

“What is needed for Penn State to win a national championship?” - stewsplace

What say you, dear reader? What do you think it will take for Penn State to lift the national championship trophy?

For me, there are three clear pieces needed to make a national championship team:

1. Recruiting

First and foremost, a team needs to recruit very well over an extended period of time to have a chance at a national championship. SBN’s Bud Elliott touts the blue chip ratio (BCR - the percentage of a team’s roster comprised of 4- and 5-star players), noting that only teams that have a BCR over 50% have won a national championship since at least the advent of the playoffs.

Penn State is already recruiting at an elite level - in fact, in 2019, the Nittany Lions are slated to have a higher BCR than your national champion Clemson Tigers. As long as James Franklin is at Penn State, expect PSU to pull in top 10-15 classes regularly, which will keep this category checked off.

2. Coaching

No duh, right? If you don’t develop players and call the right plays, what does it matter if your athletes can out-athlete their athletes?

I believe Penn State has done a mostly good job on the coaching side of things. Brent Pry is regularly considered to be one of the best defensive coordinators in the country, while Sean Spencer and Ja’Juan Seider are both highly touted assistants. Factor in other assistants that have moved on - Joe Moorhead, Josh Gattis, Bob Shoop - and for the most part, the coaching has been pretty good under Franklin.

However, not every coaching hire has been a home run. Under John Donovan (amid heavy sanctions), the offense sputtered in 2014 and 2015. David Corley’s wide receivers inexplicably couldn’t catch the ball in 2018. Phil Galiano’s special teams were questionable at best as well. The offensive line under Matt Limegrover have yet to become road grading monsters.

If Franklin can shore up some of these positions - starting this off-season - Penn State can find itself pushing for a playoff bid sooner than later.

3. Funding

If there’s one area that Penn State does not do a good-to-great job, it’s fund-raising. Routinely, James Franklin is stumping for better facilities and more money for his assistants. And who can blame him? When he took over at Penn State, the Nittany Lions’ facilities more closely matched Rutgers than Ohio State. He’s used his continued success to garner more wages for himself and his assistants. When coaches are making lateral moves, it’s almost always because of the green stuff.

James Franklin can only do so much in this department - it mostly falls on Athletic Director Sandy Barbour to raise funds for facilities and coaching salaries. She’s done an average to below-average job in this regard, in this humble writer’s opinion. That she’s set to have her contract extended is a little worrisome, as I think this is the last missing piece of the puzzle.

Better facilities = better players want to come play.

Better salaries = better coaches want to stay = better players want to come play.

It’s not rocket surgery.

In sum, there are three big pieces to putting together a national championship team - recruiting, coaching, and funding. Penn State is crushing the first piece, is doing good-to-great on the second piece, but is currently lagging on the third piece.

If Franklin can pull in more Joe Moorheads than David Corleys over the next few seasons, and if Sandy Barbour can fundraise well enough to get the Lions top of the line facilities and salaries for the assistant coaches, the Lions will absolutely contend for a national title.

If not?

It may be an extended stretch of always the bridesmaid, never the bride.