James Franklin Named One of Nation's Top-Ranked Coaches

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James Franklin Named One of Top-Ranked Coaches in College Football

Despite not appearing in the College Football Playoff, Penn State‘s James Franklin stills finds himself in elite company among college head football coaches.

Ahead of the 2024 season, Franklin was ranked as the No. 7 head coach in the country in a recent article by Bruce Feldman of The

“Franklin and Kelly’s cases are more similar than one might think,” Feldman writes. “Kelly had a way better offense last year and Franklin had a much tougher defense, but both pile up double-digit-win seasons. They haven’t come close to winning a national title, except for Notre Dame’s aforementioned blowout loss to Alabama in Miami more than a decade ago. Penn State is 21-5 the past two seasons but just 1-4 against top-10 teams in that stretch. Franklin has turned in four 11-win seasons since 2016 there and has elevated Penn State back into a powerhouse, but the Nittany Lions struggle to match up with Ohio State and Michigan. Last year’s offense was a dud. Franklin fired offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich and brought in Andy Kotelnicki from Leipold’s Kansas staff in hopes of taking that next big step.”

Franklin, who is entering his 11th season as the head man at Penn State, was ranked behind Kirby Smart, Dabo Swinney, Lance Leipold, Kalen DeBoer, Ryan Day and Brian Kelly.

Ranked directly behind Franklin were Utah’s Kyle Whittingham, USC’s Lincoln Riley and FSU’s Mike Norvell. Feldman updated the list in the wake of Nick Saban’s retirement an Jim Harbaugh leaving Michigan for the Los Angeles Chargers.

Considering Franklin came in at No. 7, he likely still would’ve cracked Feldman’s top-ten if Saban and Harbaugh were still actively coaching in college.


The Case for James Franklin Among College Football’s Elite

James Franklin arrived at Penn State in 2014 after three successful seasons as the head coach at Vanderbilt. Franklin inherited a mess in
Happy Valley with the program still reeling from the effects of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

In ten seasons, Franklin led Penn State to an 88-39 record with a Big Ten championship in 2016. The Nittany Lions hold a 4-5 bowl record
under Franklin, winning the 2014 Pinstripe Bowl, 2017 Fiesta Bowl, 2019 Cotton Bowl and 2023 Rose Bowl.

While the Nittany Lions have five seasons of 10 or more wins under Franklin, the knock on him and the program has been their inability to
reach the College Football Playoff.

The argument can be made that Penn State rightfully deserved a spot in 2016, but the team had chances in the years that followed to rectify that, and it didn’t.

The main reason why the Nittany Lions haven’t reached the Playoff is because of their record against Ohio State and Michigan.

Under James Franklin, Penn State is 3-7 against Michigan and 1-9 against Ohio State. With both those programs being in Penn State’s division the last ten years, the team had two losses staring them in the face every season.

Feldman’s rankings do reflect this as he has all of the coaches with national championship titles and those who consistently make the playoff ahead of Franklin and those who also struggling to reach the playoff behind him. In a way, Feldman is saying Franklin is the best of the second tier, which would be a fair thing to say.

How James Franklin Can Reach New Heights in 2024

Franklin has two factors going in his favor in 2024 that can help him finally get Penn State to the College Football Playoff. For starters, the Playoff is expanding from four teams to twelve this season. If the Playoff was of the 12-team variety for all of Franklin’s time at Penn State, the Nittany Lions would have five appearances in the Playoff under his leadership.

The second factor is the Big Ten dropping its divisions with the conference expanding to 18 teams.

Yes, Penn State will have a deeper schedule with having to play some combination of the four teams coming over from the Pac-12 along with the existing Big Ten teams, but having both Ohio State and Michigan on the schedule is no longer a guarantee, as will be the case in 2024.

James Franklin is one of the most polarizing coaches in college football both with his own fanbase and national critics, but at the end of the day, he’s accomplished more in the last ten years than the majority of college head coaches, and Feldman’s rankings reflect that.

MORE: Offering an Honest Grade of James Franklin’s Tenure So Far

James Franklin

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Alec Whitaker
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