Franklin still facing struggles in turning Penn State around

Franklin still facing struggles in turning Penn State around

December 26th, 2015 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Penn State head coach James Franklin disagrees with an official during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Michigan in State College, Pa., Saturday, Nov. 21, 2015. Michigan won 28-16. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Photo by Gene J. Puskar

Penn State coach James Franklin yells out directions during NCAA college football practice Friday, Dec. 18, 2015, in State College, Pa. Penn State takes on Georgia in the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla,, on Jan. 2. (Joe Hermitt/PennLive.coim via AP)

Penn State coach James Franklin yells out directions...

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Regardless of what James Franklin accomplishes from here on out as a coach, he's already unique to college football.

After all, who else has turned Vanderbilt around more quickly than Penn State? The Commodores never had won nine games as a member of the Southeastern Conference until Franklin accomplished the feat during his second season in 2012, and he did it again in 2013.

Franklin's first Nittany Lions team went 7-6 last season, winning the Pinstripe Bowl over Boston College in overtime, and this year's squad is 7-5 entering the TaxSlayer Bowl against Georgia on Jan. 2. Penn State is taking a three-game losing streak to Jacksonville and is coming off a 55-16 thumping against Michigan State.

"A lot of people are aware of some of the challenges we've been through," Franklin said. "We're still under the scholarship limits, and next year will be the first year that we're back at the full scholarships. Halfway through last season, we found out we were able to go to a bowl game, so it's just been challenging in terms of the limits in scholarships and the sanctions for multiple years.

"Our players have been unbelievable, and I'm so proud of them. They are killing it in the classroom and are doing unbelievable things in our community, and they've stuck together at a very, very challenging time in Penn State's history."

Penn State was ravaged by NCAA sanctions in July 2012 that stemmed from the child sex scandal involving former Nittany Lions defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. The uncovering of Sandusky's actions occurred in November 2011.

The Nittany Lions were fined $60 million, which was the approximate average of one year's gross revenues produced by the football program. The original four-year bowl ban and initial loss of 40 scholarships were reduced in September 2014, and the forfeiture of 111 victories from 1998 to 2011 was reversed last January.

Bill O'Brien replaced legendary coach Joe Paterno, who died of lung cancer less than three months after the sordid Sandusky story broke, and went 8-4 in 2012 and 7-5 in 2013 before becoming coach of the NFL's Houston Texans. Franklin inherited a roster that had a promising quarterback in Christian Hackenberg but only one scholarship tackle in the senior, junior and sophomore class.

"The program is headed in the right direction," Franklin said. "People are excited, and we're starting to do some good things. We still have a lot of work to do, and this bowl game is giving us an excellent opportunity to get extra practice time with our players.

"Hopefully, we can go out and play well so that can springboard us into next season on a positive note."

Franklin quickly dazzled in his brief SEC stint, leading the 2011 Commodores to a 6-6 regular season and only the fifth bowl appearance in program history. Vanderbilt's consecutive 9-4 seasons that followed included a sweeping of Tennessee, and Franklin's final team defeated Florida, Georgia and Tennessee in the same year for the first time ever.

The Commodores are 7-17 since Franklin bolted, winning just two of 16 SEC contests.

"I think a lot of Coach Franklin," Georgia interim coach Bryan McClendon said. "I think the job he did at Vanderbilt was second to none, and you knew he wasn't going to be there for very long. He's a guy who is very familiar with us and very familiar with our brand of ball, and he's going to have his team ready to play."

Franklin's Commodores were 9-7 in SEC games his last two seasons, capitalizing on an Eastern Division that had Florida and Tennessee in down cycles. He is now in the Big Ten East, which is stacked at the top with Michigan State, Ohio State and rapidly improving Michigan under Jim Harbaugh.

Not that Franklin is entering the TaxSlayer Bowl comparing his current and former league.

"They are both great conferences, and I've been fortunate to coach in both of them," he said. "The Big Ten, especially the Big Ten East, has really made some moves, and that's exciting. It's why you get in the game as a coach and a player — to compete at the very, very highest levels.

"We have a lot of teams with really great rankings, but our focus is to go out and try and get a win against a great University of Georgia program."

Dixon picks Dogs

Georgia picked up a 2017 football commitment Friday from Breon Dixon, a 6-foot, 216-pound linebacker from the Atlanta suburb of Suwanee. Dixon is rated the No. 7 inside linebacker nationally by Rivals.com and No. 12 by 247Sports.com.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.


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