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James Franklin pushes back on idea that 2023 was a wasted year for Penn State

Was 2023 a wasted season for Penn State football? James Franklin has some thoughts on the topic.



Penn State football, James Franklin, Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State
Nov 24, 2023; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions tight end Tyler Warren (44) celebrates a touchdown against the Michigan State Spartans during the second half at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports

Penn State football wrapped up the 2023 regular season in style, routing Michigan State 42-0 in Detroit on Friday night. The victory capped a second-straight 10-win regular season for the Nittany Lions, and secured a fifth double-digit win record for James Franklin in Happy Valley. But the elephant in the room is that Penn State struggled in its two biggest games of the year, and once again fell to both Michigan and Ohio State.

So, which narrative should win out? Was 2023 a successful year for the Penn State football program, or was it a “wasted” season because the Nittany Lions fell short of their goals for a Big Ten title and College Football Playoff? James Franklin shared his thoughts following the win over the Spartans Friday.

The high of highs and the low of lows for the Nittany Lions

There’s no doubt about it: Penn State football is one of the best teams in the country in 2023. There’s also little doubt that the Nittany Lions fell short of their expectations of beating Ohio State and/or Michigan, going to the Big Ten title, and vying for a College Football Playoff berth.

Penn State looked dominant at times this year, most recently a 42-0 win over Michigan State where the Nittany Lions put up 586 yards on offense while holding the Spartans to 53. But the Nittany Lions offense also struggled mightily at times, most notably in the two games that “defined” the 2023 season.

James Franklin pushes back on narrative of a “wasted” season, is proud of what Penn State football accomplished in 2023

Given the hopes coming into the season, it’s easy for some to look at 2023 as a “wasted” year for Penn State football. But when asked about some of the narratives around his program, James Franklin pushed back with what the Nittany Lions accomplished this season.

“Again, we won 10 games this season,” Franklin said Friday after the Michigan State game. “There are very few programs in the country that are able to do that. We’ve done it in back-to-back seasons. I’m very proud of what we’ve done.”

“Do I understand, and do I embrace the fact that this place has really, really high expectations? Nobody has higher expectations than the players and the coaches,” he continued. “So, I’m not sure about all that. But I’m proud of this team and how we played tonight, and how consistently we played this year.”

Franklin also highlighted the optimism he has for the future in State College.

“But obviously, there are some steps that we have to take,” he said. “I’m confident that we’re going to take those steps and be aggressive. And like I mentioned to you guys in the preseason, my confidence comes from the alignment of our leadership of [president] Neeli Bendapudi and [athletic director] Pat Kraft, and then hopefully consistency in the football program as well.”

The answer is somewhere in the middle

Big picture, it’s hard to deny the success that Penn State football has experienced in the last decade.

The Nittany Lions have made four New Year’s Six Bowls, with an opportunity for a fifth on the horizon. That’s the most of any team that hasn’t made the College Football Playoff. Given where the Penn State football program was 10 years ago, that’s undoubtedly a success.

But there’s also the second part of that statement: the most of any team that hasn’t made the College Football Playoff. It’s no secret that the Nittany Lions felt they legitimately had a shot to contend for the CFP this season. However, you wouldn’t know it by their performance in the biggest games this year. That, undoubtedly, must be viewed as a failure.

So, it won’t make anyone happy, but both sides are right. There should be frustration for falling short of Michigan and Ohio State again, while also recognizing that there are about 120 other programs that would trade to be where Penn State is in a minute.

Next year, the College Football Playoff expands, and the measure of success will likely change with it. The path won’t get any easier, with a difficult new-look Big Ten awaiting. Will Penn State finally be able to seize the opportunity in 2024?

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Matt is a co-owner and Editor in Chief of Basic Blues Nation. Launched in 2022, Basic Blues Nation is one of the fastest-growing websites covering all Penn State athletics, with over 3.5 million readers in 2023. Matt is also a credentialed member of the Penn State football beat, and is a member of the Football Writers Association of America.


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