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Franklin Hits 50 Wins Faster Than You Might Realize, And With More Success Than He Might Get Credit For

by on October 05, 2019 5:20 PM

While it likely wasn't on his mind as he walked off the field Saturday afternoon following a 35-7 victory over Purdue, James Franklin has now won 50 games as Penn State's head coach. 

It's a figure dwarfed by one of the more popular numbers in State College, but there is something to be said for the consistency required to achieve that mark in just 71 games. This is particularly remarkable when you consider Franklin spent his first two seasons at the helm of the program grappling with roster-crippling sanctions. 

And yet in the face of that adversity Penn State has still only lost to three Big Ten teams not named Michigan State, Ohio State or Michigan under Franklin's watch. In fact the Nittany Lions haven't lost to a Big Ten team not among those three since 2015.

In total Franklin has four losses to teams outside the Big Ten East's top three programs since coming to Penn State, and three of those four losses came in 2014. Franklin is 21-0 in since the end of the 2015 season against the rest of the Big Ten while racking up a Big Ten title, a Rose Bowl appearance, Fiesta Bowl victory and consistent showings against Ohio State for the better part of the last few seasons.

For a historical comparison, Franklin has managed to hit the 50-win mark at Penn State faster than Kirk Ferentz did at Iowa (85 games), Mark Dantonio at Michigan State (78 games) and Pat Fitzgerald at Northwestern (89 games.) All in the face of uniquely difficult circumstances. 

As for the recently retired Urban Meyer, the former Ohio State head coach hit 50 wins in 54 games, while Paul Chryst at Wisconsin sits at 47 wins in 59 games, but playing in a much easier Big Ten West.

And as far as Paterno? He managed 50 wins in 61 games, but in a very different world and a very different time in the game's history.

It can be difficult to overlook Penn State's close losses under Franklin which have turned out to be the difference between good seasons and banner raising ones. There is something to be said for the fact the Nittany Lions have yet to get to Indianapolis completely the result of their own efforts and have struggled against the meat of the Big Ten East. These are truths unavoidable when evaluating Franklin's tenure now 50 wins old, and truths that will continue to hang over his head until the tide begins to turn.

All the same, Penn State has become a program which routinely avoids trap games against clearly inferior opponents. The losses that have derailed Penn State's run at conference or nation titles have been against equals. It has been years since the Nittany Lions have missed out on even playing in big games. Every trip to Columbus or visit from Ann Arbor has meant something in the national conversation and dictated the Big Ten title race.

Ultimately Penn State coming up short in some of those games is independent of the fact the Nittany Lions have played themselves into the "big game" almost every year.

It leaves Franklin in an unenviable position, one where the assumed nature of his success has rendered it undervalued. Penn State beat Purdue on Saturday by four touchdowns despite a lackluster second half and a sleepy offensive performance for much of the afternoon. Once again the Nittany Lions appear to be on a crash course towards another slate of season-defining games that come with national implications.

Franklin can be judged in the larger context by how those games play out, but for a program that was without hope or direction not long ago, the fact those games are even being played is worth a bit more credit than Franklin sometimes gets.

Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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