James Franklin’s Top 10 Victories: A Decade of Penn State Football Success

Penn State Football, James Franklin
Penn State Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin leads his team to the field (Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire)

As James Franklin enters his milestone 10th season as the head coach of Penn State Football, it’s an opportune time to reflect on the remarkable achievements and memorable victories that have defined his tenure in Happy Valley.

Since taking the helm in 2014, Franklin has elevated the Nittany Lions back to national prominence, orchestrating numerous thrilling victories and capturing the hearts of fans.

Let’s dive into the top 10 victories of James Franklin’s tenure, showcasing the moments that have etched his name into Penn State history, and set the stage for the next chapter of the program’s success story.

James Franklin’s Top-10 Victories at Penn State Football

No. 10 – Penn State vs. Michigan State (2016)

In a hard-fought battle against the Michigan State Spartans, the Nittany Lions emerged victorious with a 45-12 triumph.

The win not only avenged a heartbreaking defeat from the previous season, but also showcased the growth and development of Franklin’s program, as they dominated a conference opponent on both sides of the ball. Penn State’s win over Sparty propelled the Lions to the Big Ten East Championship and a berth in the conference title game.

No. 9 – Penn State vs. Iowa (2017)

Facing a tough Iowa Hawkeyes team in a primetime matchup, the Nittany Lions prevailed in a thrilling 21-19 victory.

The win showcased Franklin’s ability to make critical in-game adjustments and his team’s ability to execute under pressure, solidifying their standing as a top contender in the Big Ten.


No. 8 – Penn State vs. Memphis (2019 Cotton Bowl)

Franklin’s second New Year’s Six Bowl victory appeared to mark the Nittany Lions’ arrival as a national championship contender, and capped an 11-win season.

Penn State’s decisive 53-39 victory featured arguably the most dominant performance of linebacker Micah Parsons‘ collegiate career. Some of the optimism that the win would build into success the following season was tempered by the COVID-19 pandemic, and Parsons’ decision to leave early for the NFL Draft.

No. 7 – Penn State vs. Appalachian State (2018)

Sometimes, victories are born from adversity.

In the season opener against Appalachian State, Franklin’s team found themselves on the brink of defeat. However, a resilient performance led to a nail-biting 45-38 overtime win. This victory served as a reminder of the team’s never-give-up attitude and set the tone for a successful season ahead.

No. 6 – Penn State vs. Michigan (2017)

In a statement victory against a bitter conference rival, Penn State dominated the Michigan Wolverines in a 42-13 blowout win.

The victory showcased Franklin’s ability to prepare his team for big games and establish Penn State as a force to be reckoned with in the Big Ten. Penn State rose to No. 2 in the ensuing week’s College Football Playoff rankings.

No. 5 – Penn State vs. Washington (2017 Fiesta Bowl)

Penn State’s Fiesta Bowl victory over Washington in 2017 marked their second straight New Year’s Six bowl appearance.

Franklin’s team showcased resilience and determination, clinching a 35-28 victory. The win cemented Penn State’s status as a perennial powerhouse and showcased Franklin’s ability to guide the team to success on the biggest stages.


No. 4 – Penn State vs. Purdue (2022)

Penn State Football entered the 2022 campaign unranked, and trailed the Boilermakers 24-21 entering the fourth quarter.

Ultimately, thanks to some final drive heroics by Sean Clifford, Penn State emerged the Thursday night national television clash unscathed. The thrilling 34-31 win that set the stage for a resurgent season.

No. 3 – Penn State vs. Auburn (2021)

Another WhiteOut thriller, this time against traditional SEC powerhouse, Auburn, gave Penn State the chance to showcase its environment and the program’s dominance to a southern audience.

Franklin and the Nittany Lions didn’t disappoint, knocking off the Tigers 28-20 in front of a raucous Beaver Stadium.

No. 2 – Penn State vs. Wisconsin (2016 Big Ten Championship)

In a high-stakes battle for the Big Ten Championship, the Nittany Lions faced a formidable Wisconsin team in December 2016.

Despite trailing by three touchdowns in the first half, Franklin’s squad mounted a sensational comeback, led by quarterback Trace McSorley and running back Saquon Barkley. A thrilling 38-31 victory in the title game propelled Penn State to a Rose Bowl berth and announced their return to college football’s elite.

No. 1 – Penn State vs. Ohio State (2016)

Arguably the most iconic victory of Franklin’s tenure came on an electric night in October 2016 when the unranked Nittany Lions faced the second-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes.

In a whiteout atmosphere at Beaver Stadium, Penn State rallied from a 14-point deficit to secure a 24-21 upset victory. The game-winning touchdown by Grant Haley off a blocked field goal will forever be etched in Penn State lore, solidifying Franklin’s ability to inspire his team to greatness.

From memorable comebacks to statement wins against conference rivals, Franklin has set the foundation for a program that could be on the cusp of returning to the sport’s loftiest heights in 2023.

Optimism is high, with College Football Playoff aspirations for Penn State, thanks to the emergence of former five-star quarterback Drew Allar, running back Nick Singleton, and a loaded defense.

However, it was the first decade of Franklin’s tenure that has set the stage for what might be the most promising era of Penn State Football still ahead in the future.

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