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It’s time to give James Franklin his flowers

After Penn State’s 14-point Rose Bowl win over Utah, it is time that we once again give James Franklin his flowers.



Oct 22, 2022; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin celebrates with running back Nicholas Singleton (10) after scoring a touchdown during the third quarter against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at Beaver Stadium. Penn State defeated Minnesota 45-17. Mandatory Credit: Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

During Penn State’s 2021 season, the Nittany Lions gave James Franklin a 10-year contract extension. At that same time, Penn State football was headed towards its first 7-6 season since 2015 — the season before the sanctions were lifted.

James Franklin takes Penn State from sanctions to Big Ten Champs

After Bill O’Brian left the program following the 2013 season, Penn State football looked for a new head coach. After a short search, James Franklin was hired from Vanderbilt — a school that he had built into a consistent 9-win team in the SEC. After getting Vandy ranked in back-to-back seasons, James Franklin was tasked with turning around the struggling Nittany Lions.

After the Sandusky scandal rocked Penn State’s program during the 2011 season, the NCAA gave PSU football a death sentence with its sanctions. Still, Penn State persevered and went 8-4 in 2012 and 7-5 in 2013. In 2014 and 2015 Penn State football was still under sections, and finished 7-6 in both seasons. In year one of James Franklin, Penn State was finally allowed to compete in bowl games again, and won its first bowl game (Pinstripe Bowl) since 2009.

A year later, PSU went 7-5 but lost to Georgia in the TaxSlayer Bowl. After two years, some were happy, but most were unimpressed with Franklin’s 14-12 record. The 2016 season needed to be a good one, and to say it was would be an understatement.

In 2016 — Penn State’s first season without sanctions since 2011 — the Nittany Lions were off to a rough start. Penn State lost at home to Pitt and got blown out by Michigan in Ann Arbor, 49-10. A 2-2 start to the season quickly turned into a 4-2 start with a narrow win over Minnesota and a solid win over Maryland. The game that followed was a daunting one: unranked Penn State was set to host No. 2 Ohio State in the White Out game.

Penn State’s hard-fought matchup against the Buckeyes was one that will forever live in Penn State football history — it was a win that changed PSU football forever. After blocking a field goal late in the game and returning it for a touchdown, the Nittany Lions manage to hold off Ohio State’s high-flying offense and won, 24-21. The win got Penn State back on the map and put PSU back into the top-25 for the first time in a long time.

In the weeks that followed, James Franklin had Penn State playing its best football. The Nittany Lions secured solid victories over a handful of unranked teams before securing a 38-31 comeback win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship game.

Penn State’s 2016 conference title was the Lions first title since 2008 and is still Penn State’s only Big Ten Championship game appearance and win. Though PSU barely missed the College Football Playoff, the conference title sent Penn State to the Rose Bowl. In one of the most-thrilling Rose Bowl games of all time, the Nittany Lions fell to USC — the PAC-12 representative — 52-49.

Despite the loss, Penn State finished No. 7 in the polls with an 11-3 record — it was a monumental and historic season for Penn State, one that was essential for PSU to get back on the map.

A historic run for Penn State football

In the seasons that followed, Penn State could never quite reach the conference title game again. Still, the Nittany Lions were one of the best programs in the country year in and year out, and had a historic stretch of seasons.

In 2017, Penn State got off to another hot start and seemingly crushed everything in its path. The Nittany Lions could not overcome Ohio State in Columbus or Michigan State in East Lansing; however, PSU still finished 10-2 overall and had impressive wins such as a 42-13 win over No. 19 Michigan, a 21-19 win at Iowa, a 33-14 win over Pitt, and a 66-3 win at Maryland.

Penn State’s performance in 2017 was good enough to earn the Nittany Lions a spot in the Fiesta Bowl against No. 12 Washington — a game that Penn State won, 35-28.

The Fiesta Bowl was Penn State’s first New Year’s Six win since Joe Paterno’s Orange Bowl win in 2005 during PSU’s 11-1 Big Ten Championship season. It was Also Penn State’s first back-to-back 11-win seasons and top-10 finishes since 2008-09.

In 2018, Penn State started off hot yet could not sustain its success from the two seasons prior. The Nittany Lions dropped close games to Ohio State and Michigan State at home, and got a monumental beatdown in Ann Arbor for the second time since 2016 (42-7). PSU finished the regular season with a 9-3 overall record and went on to lose the Citrus Bowl to Kentucky. Still, Penn State finished No. 17 in the polls — it was the first time since 1997-1999 that the Nittany Lions had finished ranked in both major polls three times in a row.

After Penn State’s harsh 2018 season, the Lions made a return to the top with yet another 11-win season. Penn State football started the year 8-0 before losing in Columbus to Ohio State. The Nittany Lions also dropped a close one on the road at No. 17 Minnesota and finished the season 10-2 again. Penn State’s 2019 season saw a few major goals being accomplished despite the two losses. The Nittany Lions beat Pitt (17-10), No. 16 Michigan (28-21), and Michigan State (28-7), as well as an impressive 79-7 win over Idaho.

The Nittany Lions’ regular season earned them another New Year’s Six bid, this time, Penn State was sent to the Cotton Bowl to face off against No. 17 Memphis (12-1). In a shockingly high-scoring game, James Franklin coached Penn State to a 53-39 win and earned PSU another 11-win season and top-10 finish. The 11-2 record was Penn State’s third 11-win season in four seasons and saw its second NY6 win in three years.

From 2016-2019, Penn State football won its first-ever Big Ten Championship game and finished ranked in both polls four-straight times for the first time since 1996-1999. On top of that, Penn State secured three 11-win seasons in four years for the first time in program history, and won two NY6 games in three years for the first time since 1994-1996. If that was not enough, the Nittany Lions also finished in the top-10 three times in four seasons for the first time since 1993-1996.

Setbacks set unrealistic perception of James Franklin

In 2020, the COVID-19 season, Penn State football saw some major setbacks. Like Michigan and Michigan State, the Nittany Lions had a touch time navigating the pandemic season and ended up finishing with an uncharacteristically bad record. Penn State’s 4-5 finish was the program’s first losing season since the early 2000s. On top of that, Penn State saw its worst start in program history (0-5).

In 2021, everything was back to normal and Penn State started the season 5-0. That being said, the Nittany Lions saw many costly injuries, including a rib injury to starting QB and team captain Sean Clifford.

A 5-0 start and top-4 ranking turned into a 7-6 overall record and an unranked finish after the injuries. Many people wrote off Penn State football due to this performance; however, James Franklin had his team ready to go again in 2022.

Penn State, James Franklin rise again

In 2022, the Nittany Lions came into the season unranked for the first time since 2016 when Penn State was coming off of sanctions. In fairness, the 2021 season gave people little hope for PSU in 2022, yet the message was loud and clear: Penn State’s time at the top was assumed to be over.

Like 2021, Penn State started the year off with a 5-0 record and climbed its way into the top-10. A loss to Michigan in Ann Arbor was a small setback, but PSU got back in the win column with a 45-17 win in the White Out over a Minnesota team that finished 9-4 overall. Despite a valiant fight against Ohio State, the Nittany Lions dropped their second game of the season two weeks after the Michigan loss, and were largely written off again.

To close out the season, Penn State football again established itself as a top team in the sport with a series of huge wins. PSU started the streak with a 45-14 win at Indiana, and followed it up with a 30-0 win over Maryland, a 55-10 win at Rutgers, and finally a 35-16 win over Michigan State on Senior Day. Penn State’s 10-2 record placed them at No. 11 heading into Bowl Season and was good enough to earn the Nittany Lions their second Rose Bowl berth since 2016.

Additionally, Penn State only had two losses this season, both of which came to College Football Playoff teams (No. 2 Michigan and No. 4 Ohio State). The only mark against Penn State and James Franklin in 2022 was the program’s lack of a ranked win this season. That all changed on January 2nd, 2023.

Penn State wins Rose Bowl, finishes 11-2 and top-10

Yet again, James Franklin has won 11 games and a New Year’s Six game as Penn State’s head coach. This season — despite not being ranked to start the year and having a projected win total of 7-8 games — Penn State football overcame adversity and got back on track.

Heading into the Rose Bowl game, Penn State football was a 1.5-point underdog against the No. 8 Utah Utes, the reigning back-to-back PAC-12 Champions. On top of that, as expected, the Nittany Lions were set to be missing a few starters for the game. The Rose Bowl was also Sean Clifford’s final game as the Lions’ starting quarterback.

After heading into halftime with a 14-14 tie, Penn State blew the game wide open in the second half. A late touchdown made the score closer than the game actually was, but Penn State walked away with a 14-point win nonetheless. The Nittany Lions’ 35-21 win over Utah was the program’s first top-10 win since 2016, Penn State’s first Rose Bowl win since 1995, and James Franklin’s first 11-win season/top-10 finish/New Year’s Six win since 2019.

Over the past six full seasons, here is Penn State’s resume under James Franklin:

  • 11-3, Big Ten Champions (top-10)
  • 11-2, Fiesta Bowl Champions (top-10)
  • 9-4 (No. 17)
  • 11-2, Cotton Bowl Champions (top-10)
  • 7-6
  • 11-2, Rose Bowl Champions (top-10)

Considering what Franklin inherited in 2014 and the resources that Penn State football currently has, this resume is astounding. The Nittany Lions are trending towards even bigger and better heading into 2023, which is equally (if not more) exciting for Penn State fans. It is time we stop these silly narratives about James Franklin and Penn State football and give them the respect that they deserve.


Sean Clifford has some bold statements ahead of the NFL Draft

On Friday, Sean Clifford had some bold statements ahead of the NFL Draft in mid-April.



Penn State veteran Sean Clifford, Penn State football
Sep 17, 2022; Auburn, Alabama, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Sean Clifford (14) takes a snap during the first quarter against the Auburn Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

STATE COLLEGE, PA — On Friday, the Penn State Nittany Lions held their pro day at the school’s football facilities. There, 6-year Penn State football quarterback Sean Clifford made an impact on pro scouts, and made some bold claims about his combine snub and NFL hopes. Whether you love him or hate him, Penn State veteran Sean Clifford believes in himself, and believes that he is ready for what professional football has for him.

Penn State veteran Sean Clifford believes that he is ready for for the NFL

Here is some of what Penn State veteran Sean Clifford had to say during his pro day performance on Friday.

“I feel like I was snubbed with the Combine for sure,” Clifford said. “The body of work that I’ve had with these teams here; when I didn’t see my name as a Combine guy, I felt disrespected for sure. But, hey, it’s just more fuel to the fire.

“Being able to come out here, show the scouts what I got, and being able to really just put on a show, it’s been a lot of fun, and a good way to cap off a great career at Penn State. So I’m really thankful.”

Sean Clifford has an impressive body of work with Penn State football

During his six years in State College, Penn State veteran Sean Clifford broke numerous Penn State football records — such as passing yards, passing touchdowns, and more. Additionally, Clifford became the winningest Penn State quarterback of all-time, compiling a 33-15 record and two New Year’s Six bowls during his four seasons as a starter.

When asked how he through his pro day went, Penn State veteran Sean Clifford claimed that it went “Really well … Especially getting out there and being able to show my speed. I think that’s something I really wanted to come in and kind of re-prove. I know that I’ve shown speed on film. But I wanted to come out here and post a good time. So being able to post a 4.57[-second 40-yard-dash], I’m proud of that number.”

Now that his pro day has passed, Sean Clifford has his attention on getting into the NFL — he will likely be signed after the draft as not many teams are in need of a 24-year-old quarterback. Still, he believes that all he needs is a chance.

“I just need to be in a camp,” Clifford said. “I just need to be able to be in a practice with the pros. Because I know I’m a pro, [and] I know I can come in and add value to a team. I know that more than anything. I still think that I can play in the [NFL], 100 percent, provide to a team, win games, the same way I did here.

“So it’s just being able to come out, talk to as many scouts as possible, get to know some coaches. It’s just being able to get around a bunch of teams, because I truly feel like no matter where I’m at, I could add a substantial amount of value.”

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Penn State quarterback room dips in annual ESPN rankings

The Nittany Lions are a few spots down from where the 2022 QB room ranked.



Drew Allar, 2023 QB rankings

STATE COLLEGE, PA — Ahead of every college football season, ESPN ranks the top quarterback rooms in the sport. Seeing as QB is the most important position on the field, this ranking is a pretty important indication of how a team’s offense will perform throughout the year — ESPN ranks the entire room, not just the team’s starting quarterback. This week, ESPN released its 2023 QB rankings, and the Nittany Lions — led by sophomore Drew Allar — found themselves a few spots lower than they did a season ago.

Where did Penn State football rank in 2022?

With Sean Clifford and Drew Allar headlining Penn State’s quarterback room in 2022, ESPN ranked the Nittany Lions at No. 11 nationally a season ago. After winning the Rose Bowl and finishing 11-2 overall, Penn State football lost two of its three QBs from the 2022 room — Sean Clifford is graduating, and Christian Veilleux has entered the transfer portal.

With only Drew Allar remaining from last year’s room, many thought that this preseason dip in the rankings was inevitable; after all, no one has truly seen Allar or Pribula play ball yet.

Where do Drew Allar and Penn State fall in the 2023 QB rankings?

This year, Penn State comes in at No. 15 nationally in the 2023 QB rankings — just four spots down from last year’s rankings despite losing 2/3 of the room and a veteran starting quarterback. With the nation’s No. 1 recruit from 2022 — Drew Allar — at the helm this year, Penn State fans are hoping for much bigger and better than what the program got under Sean Clifford.

Behind Drew Allar is fellow sophomore Beau Pribula, who has been turning heads during spring ball this far, and could find himself a stand alone role on the Penn State offense this year. According to James Franklin, his most attractive trait is that he boasts an opposite skillset than what Sean Clifford and Drew Allar have.

Behind Pribula at QB3 is true freshman Jackson Smolik.

What is the expectation for Allar & Co. this year?

After four years of Sean Clifford, all Penn State fans are ready to turn the page. While Clifford’s teams had some great seasons — such as 2019 and 2022 which both won 11 games and New Year’s Six bowls — he was never enough to get the Nittany Lions to the next level. Now, Penn State needs to get more from the massive Drew Allar and his counterparts.

As I have written before, the Penn State Nittany Lions do not need Allar to be elite in 2023 to make the CFP. That being said, if Penn State wants to win a national title, elite is the only thing that can be expected of Drew Allar. We will know a lot more about this year’s offense on September 2nd when Penn State kicks off its 2023 season at home against West Virginia; for now, the expectations for Allar and Co. are all over the place.

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Penn State needs KeAndre Lambert-Smith to be a true No. 1, Franklin says

The Nittany Lions need their veteran wide receiver to be one of the best in the Big Ten this year.



Penn State football KeAndre Lambert-Smith
Nov 27, 2021; East Lansing, Michigan, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions wide receiver KeAndre Lambert-Smith (13) runs after a catch during the second quarter against the Michigan State Spartans at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

STATE COLLEGE, PA — Heading into the 2023 season, the Penn State Nittany Lions are losing some solid talent at the wide receiver position. A season ago, standouts like Parker Washington, Mitchell Tinsley, and Brenton Strange were some of Sean Clifford’s favorite targets; however, as we turn the page to a brand new season this fall, Penn State football will be without all three of these pass-catchers. In year one of the Drew Allar era, head coach James Franklin claims that the Nittany Lions need KeAndre Lambert-Smith to be a true No. 1 receiver.

Penn State football news KeAndre Lambert-Smith to be a true No. 1 receiver

The Penn State football team is looking solid at wide receiver right now despite all of its departures from the 2022 squad. The Nittany Lions managed to add two solid receivers from the transfer portal and still have some in-house talent that they can fall back on. That being said, Penn State needs one man to go above and beyond this year: KeAndre Lambert-Smith.

A season ago, Lambert-Smith caught 24 passes for 389 yards and four touchdowns — his best performance of the year came against No. 8 Utah in the Rose Bowl game on January 2nd; there, he hauled in three passes for 124 yards and a touchdown during the Nittany Lions’ 14-point win over the Utes. After the Rose Bowl performance, KeAndre Lambert-Smith claimed that, while the 11-2 season was nice, Penn State football is looking for bigger and better in 2023.

James Franklin says Lambert-Smith needs to be a top performer in the Big Ten, not just at Penn State

Here is what head coach James Franklin had to say about KeAndre Lambert-Smith during his media availability on Tuesday afternoon:

“He’s been really good so far this spring,” Franklin said. “We need him to be THE guy, a true number one [receiver], not just at Penn State but really in the [Big Ten] and a guy that people are talking about nationally.”

James Franklin added that Penn State is still figuring out some depth issues when it comes to the wideout room. “There is going to be a competition really with all of [Penn State’s receivers] — I think that is probably one of the big question marks between now and the first game.”

After an incredible 2022 season, the Penn State football team is looking for even better results from its offense. Right now, the quarterback, running back, offenisve line, and tight ends all appear to be somewhat in place; however, as the spring goes on, the Lions must figure out who will start and who will sit when it comes to their receivers. The one thing that we do know for sure: KeAndre Lambert-Smith is going to be a crucial factor in Penn State’s passing game this fall.

Thank you for reading Basic Blues Nation. Please follow us on Facebook and Twitter for the latest news and insights on your favorite Penn State athletics.

For feedback, questions, concerns, or to apply for a writing position, please email us at or direct message us on our social media. It’s due to your support that we can become one of the market’s fastest-growing Penn State sports outlets!

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