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2015 Has All The Makings of a New Year’s Revolution for Penn State Football

by on January 05, 2015 1:00 AM

Let’s be resolute about this:

The year ahead for Penn State football will be, in many ways, revolutionary.

And not in a Sanduskyed, sancti- monious or sanctioned kind of a way.

Nope. For the first time in years, the football focus at Penn State will be primarily on the playing field, and supporting areas such as administration, recruiting and facilities. The usual Power Five kind of stuff.

And by Power Five, we mean two things:

First, the 65 schools in the five major conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC, plus Notre Dame) playing big-time college football.

And second, the five teams ahead of sixth-place Penn State (2-6 in B10 play) in the Big Ten’s East Division in 2014 – Ohio State (8-0), Michigan State (7-1), Maryland (4-4), Rutgers (3-5) and Michigan (3-5).

Times have changed at Penn State. Quickly. Same goes for the Big Ten.

It was an historic period last week, indeed, when in the span of 124 lightning-fast hours, Penn State played in its first bowl game in three seasons (and won its first in five years), Michigan hired Jim Harbaugh and Ohio State hung 28 straight points on Alabama to advance to the national championship game.

And we’re just talking the Big Ten’s East, for goodness sakes. And by goodness, we now mean greatness. (The West, with Riley and Chryst, is not best -- but it is better.)


When a six-second Vine is now a looping lifetime and a 140-character Tweet is the digital equivalent of delineating how many angels can dance #ontheheadofapin, the seismic shift that is now happening within the Big Ten – and, ipso facto, Penn State – is a Jim Diviney moment indeed.

Ohio State’s Urban Renewal process is now complete. Michigan State was ranked No. 3 in the country as recently as a year ago and Harbaugh’s pedigree and doggedness almost ensure that Michigan will be a power. Soon. And James Franklin, seemingly, hasn’t slept for 359 days in pursuit of Penn State’s first No. 1 ranking since 1997 – or, more accurately, in hot pursuit of the players who can get that first No. 1 ranking since 1997.

In other words, it’s back to the future. The football legends are now leaders again.

A week from Monday, the James Franklin Era moves into Year 2. He takes along a 7-6 opening-season record, the momentum of an overtime bowl game victory in Yankee Stadium, a Wegmans bagful of selfies and a cleaner slate than anyone could have ever imagined three years ago. Two years ago. A year ago!

The past was a helluva prologue, but the future is now. Just look at Penn State’s roster come the start of spring drills in March.

Wednesday, Feb. 4, is National Letter of Intent Signing Day for major college football. When Franklin inks his second class of 25 recruits in 13 months, he’ll have 50 players who were Franklin minted – meaning they signed with him. Assuming that the Nittany Lions carry 85 scholarship players in 2015, at least 58.82% of those athletes will be Franklin recruits.

That will leave, at most, a minority of 35 players who signed their LOI (letter of intent) when OB or JoePa was the man in charge at PSU.


In 2015, only six of Penn State’s scholarshipped players will be in their fifth season, having entered Penn State in 2011 when Joe Paterno was still the head coach. (They are: Kyle Carter, Ben Kline, Angelo Mangiro, Carl Nassib, Matt Zanellato and Anthony Zettel. Carter, BTW, is the Last Supa Six Standing.)

About 16 or so scholarshipped players remain from Bill O’Brien’s first class, in February 2012, and less than a dozen from O’Brien’s second class (February 2013) will be on the roster come the 2015 spring drills.

And...just…like…that…it’s the end of two eras.

How’s this for a snap-your-neck, 6G fast download? The 2015 season could be quarterback Christian Hackenberg’s last at Penn State. The Wunderkid already has 25 starts, eight 300-yard games, 15 200-yard games, 5,932 passing yards, 32 TD passes and 66 sacks under his belt. Increase those numbers by 50% and he’ll be the Nittany Lion passing leader in just about every category. In. Only. Three. Seasons.

Hackenberg will be eligible for the NFL Draft in 11 months – two months shy of his 21st birthday and his first Phyrst draft. (He’ll turn 21 on Feb. 14, 2016.) Hack not coming back? Now that would be an evolutionary change, at least for Penn State.

Consider the two PSU QBs closest to Hackenberg in poise, stature, arm and pro potential. It was a big deal in January 1983 when Todd Blackledge left Penn State and went No. 7 in the NFL Draft after four years at Penn State -- even though he had a year’s worth of eligibility remaining. And it was de rigueur when Kerry Collins was at Penn State for all five possible seasons before going pro as a No. 1 pick in 1995.


Change at the top has finally stopped. For both Penn State president Eric Barron and athletic director Sandy Barbour, 2015 will be their first full calendar year at PSU. Right now, counting Franklin, the three have been on the job together at University Park for 161 days. The triumvirate of Spanier-Curley-Paterno was in place together for 194 consecutive months.

Lasch Building is undergoing a facelift of epic proportions. Built in 1998 at a cost of $14 million, it was budgeted for $2 million in changes last summer and was recently earmarked for at least $12 million in the next few years, beginning ASAP. Reconstruction, renovations and the addition of graphics, branding and elements of wow! are scheduled to enhance and rebuild a building that was literally leaking from the seams when it rained. (Apparently, $4,000 lockers are not optional.)

The facilities are changing and, possibly, Franklin’s staff could too. If not today, then some day. Franklin’s coaches and his administrative band of Radar O’Reillys are the head coach’s true secret sauce. If we can see why Franklin fought to bring them to Penn State en masse, so can other schools.

And while it is unlikely there will be a mass exodus of same any time soon – win, lose or draw – they are talented enough that others will try to Pry them away from Penn State. Shoop, there he is.

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Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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