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Penn State Football: How James Franklin Does After Bye Weeks, Ohio State & vs. the Big Ten East’s Big 3

by on October 08, 2018 8:00 PM

Plan, plan, plan.

Bye weeks are made for it.

By the time kickoff rolls around shortly after 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, Penn State and James Franklin will have had 328 hours since the end of the Ohio State game — 11:33 p.m., to be exact — to do just that for visiting Michigan State.

Planning is one of the things Franklin & Co. do best.

The games following a bye week, at Penn State and elsewhere, are a great barometer of a program’s ability to prepare, regroup and focus.

And if history is any indication — with two weeks to rest some key players and then prepare his team after a one-point loss to the Urbanites — you can be fairly certain that the Franklin will have the Nittany Lions ready for Sparty and Saturday’s Homecoming game.

It’s part of the Franklin Brand, which is closing in on the century mark. At age 46, Franklin is in his eighth season as a head coach and already his fifth at Penn State. 

He is 40-18 at Penn State, a .689 winning percentage that ranks him No. 4 all-time among Penn State among PSU coaches who have 20 wins or more. That’s saying something following back-to-back 7-6 rebuilding seasons.

His 40 victories at Penn State rank him fifth all-time among the 17 head coaches in Penn State’s 132 years of playing college football, behind Joe Paterno (409…but you knew that), Rip Engle (104), Bob Higgins (91) and Hugo Bezdek (65).

Overall, counting a 24-15 run at Vanderbilt from 2011-13, he is 64-33 as a head coach. Michigan State is his 98th game as a head coach, followed by 99 next week at Indiana and No. 100 against Iowa at home on Oct. 27.

Franklin began his coaching career in 1995 as a wide receivers coach at Kutztown in 1995. But, in a few ways, is still learning the nuances of the profession, as we saw real-time in the fourth quarter of Penn State’s come-from-ahead loss to the Buckeyes on Saturday. (Read my thoughts on that here.) You can plan the heck out of the eight months between your season opener and the day after a bowl game, but split-second decisions aren’t so easy. For anyone.

As Penn State heads into Saturday’s game, Franklin is now 1-4 against Urban Meyer, even though three of the losses were by a combined nine points; he’s 1-3 against Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio; and he is 1-2 against Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh (who is a sneaky-good 33-12 in Ann Arbor thus far).

That makes him just 3-9 against the East’s (other) Big Three coaches, having lost three of their last four match-ups. A loss to Brady Hoke and Michigan in 2014 brings the mark to 3-10. But let’s be real: None of those three coaches faced close to the initial challenges that Franklin did when he arrived in a not-yet-again Happy Valley on Jan. 11, 2014.


Back to that planning thing:

Coming off a bye week is where we will (likely) see Franklin, a CEO with OCD and extreme expectations across the board, at his best.

Although as a head coach he is just 5-4 in games following bye weeks, he and his staff are battle-tested and know what do with an extra week of time in the middle of the season (I detailed that yesterday; read it here.)

Franklin and coordinators Brent Pry and Ricky Rahne have been through the gauntlet in big games against tough foes following regular season open dates; uniquely, there were two such occurrences in 2014. The list of results following regular-season bye weeks:

At No. 2 Alabama — a 34-0 loss in their first season at Vanderbilt.

Victories on the road against Missouri and Florida, and at home vs. No. 15 Georgia — repeat: All victories. Let’s not discount this; these were wins by once-and-again lowly Vandy against bona fide SEC brand names. 

Ohio State — two games: a 2OT loss in 2014 and the 2016 scoop-and-score upset of the No. 2. Buckeyes.

Michigan — three games and two losses: 18-13 in 2014 and 28-16 in 2015, plus a resounding 42-13 win in 2017.

That’s a pretty good track record and testament to what Franklin and his staff of coaches, QC people, staffers and recruiters do best:

Plan, then work their plan.


Penn State’s game against Michigan State provides a few other opportunities to assess how Franklin does in out-of-the norm circumstances. To wit:

Games following losses — Overall under Franklin, at Penn State has a 6-7 record in regular-season games immediately following losses (I don’t include bowl game results). In 2014-15, Penn State was 3-6 in games following losses. But, since 2016, the Nittany Lions are 3-1. At Vandy, Franklin rallied his troops to a 9-5 mark following losses, including a stellar 7-1 mark in his final two seasons in Nashville.

Games following Ohio State — There’s always a danger of a letdown or hangover, win or lose against the Buckeyes — especially since the contests have been so close and potentially gut-wrenching.

Under Franklin, Penn State is 2-2 in games immediately following their (recently-epic) match-ups against Ohio State. In the succeeding games following Ohio State, Penn State beat Maryland (31-30, 2015) and Purdue (62-24, 2016), and lost to Maryland (29-19, 2014) and Michigan State (27-24, 2017).

One thing’s for sure: Franklin doesn’t plan to lose the OSU-MSU Daily Double two years in a row.

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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