James Franklin has now been at the helm of the Penn State Football program for 10 years and has led the team to a very successful decade, winning a Big Ten Championship and three New Year’s Six Bowls.
For criteria, any player that played at least one year under James Franklin is eligible, including players on the 2023 roster.
Penn State Football All-James Franklin Team: Offense
Quarterback: Trace McSorley
This selection was harder for me than I think it would be for many Penn State fans.
McSorley led the program back toward the top of college football when he took over as the Nittany Lions‘ starting quarterback in 2016 following Christian Hackenberg’s selection in round 2 of the 2016 NFL draft.
After a 2-2 start to the season that saw Penn State lose to Pitt on a last minute McSorley interception in the endzone, Penn State Football rattled off nine wins in a row, including a win in the Big Ten Championship game against Wisconsin to earn James Franklin his only Big Ten title.
McSorley finished his career in Happy Valley with, at the time, career Penn State records in wins, completions, passing yards, passing touchdowns, total offense, rushing yards by a quarterback, and touchdowns responsible for, including others.
The selection of McSorley was difficult because Sean Clifford spent the post-McSorley years breaking most of McSorley’s records, including wins, completions, passing yards, passing touchdowns, and passing attempts, while leading Penn State to two 11-win seasons and two New Year’s Six Bowl wins, including the 2023 Rose Bowl. I gave the nod to McSorley because of the Big Ten Championship win but it was close.
Running Back: Saquon Barkley
As much as there was a real debate over the quarterback position, there really is no debate over the running back position, at least at the present.
The mega-talented Penn State running back finished his career at Penn State as the leader in rushing touchdowns and total touchdowns, while finishing fourth in Heisman voting before being selected number two overall in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Penn State Football has not had a shortage of good backs during the Franklin era, with former standouts Miles Sanders and Journey Brown (before a terrible medical issue ended his promising football career) and current stars in Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen.
Wide Receiver 1: Jahan Dotson
In the James Franklin era, no wide receiver has been surer handed or consistent as Jahan Dotson.
Over 42 games, including 38 starts, Dotson caught 183 passes for 2757 yards and 25 touchdowns.
Dotson was as explosive as a receiver comes, owning 38 career receptions of 20 or more yards and six career touchdowns of 60 or more yards. Dotson also racked up 11 career 100-yard games, second all-time at Penn State.
As the most important signing day flip of the James Franklin era, Dotson also tops this list as the number one receiver of the Franklin era.
Wide Receiver 2: Chris Godwin
Another big-time playmaker that came up clutch for Penn State during the 2016 Big Ten Championship run was Chris Godwin.
Godwin pulled in 11 touchdowns (second all time in a season for Penn State) and 982 receiving yards in 2016. Godwin also put up an all-time performance in the Rose Bowl that season with 187 yards and two touchdowns, leading to him leaving early for the 2017 NFL draft.
Wide Receiver 3: KJ Hamler
After redshirting his true freshman season and recovering from a high school knee injury, KJ Hamler made his presence known at Penn State as a redshirt freshman.
Hamler earned freshman all-America honors from the Football Writers Association of America as a kick returner in 2018 and was a finalist for the Paul Hornung Award for the nation’s most versatile player. Known as the “human joystick”, KJ Hamler was a favorite target of starting quarterback Sean Clifford during the 2019 season.
In his career at Penn State, Hamler pulled in 1658 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns and left Penn State fans with plenty of highlight reel plays to remember, including a 93-yard touchdown against Ohio State in 2018.
Tight End: Pat Freiermuth
At another position loaded with talent for Penn State in the James Franklin era, Pat Freiermuth sticks out among the giants.
After taking over for Mike Gesicki in 2019, Freiermuth caught a program record 16 touchdowns in blue and white while racking up 1185 yards over his 30 games (26 starts). Freiermuth was also a leader for Penn State off the field, being selected as a two-time captain for the Nittany Lions.
Tackle: Olu Fashanu
There is really no argument here. Olu Fashanu is rated as the number one tackle for the 2024 NFL Draft after returning to school despite having the opportunity to go in the top 15 in the 2023 NFL draft.
As long as Fashanu does not get injured during the 2023 season, he will easily be the top offensive lineman in the James Franklin era.
Guard: Brendan Mahon
Brendan Mahon was already at Penn State when James Franklin arrived in Happy Valley, but since he played three seasons under Franklin’s leadership, he is eligible for this list.
With 31 career starts along the offensive line, Mahon was one of Penn State’s longest tenured offensive lineman. During his senior season, Mahon earned the Dick Maginnis Memorial Award, honoring the program’s outstanding offensive lineman, at the team’s annual awards banquet.
Center: Juice Scruggs
After a car accident nearly derailed Juice Scruggs football career, he battled back from injury to be selected in the second round of the 2023 NFL Draft.
After appearing in one games as a freshman, Scruggs missed the entirety of the 2019 season before entering seven games as a sophomore and earning the Penn State Tim Shaw Thrive Award along with Journey Brown, presented to “a Penn State football student-athlete who has overcome adversities and been an inspiration to his fellow teammates.” In his last two seasons in Happy Valley, Scruggs made 26 starts and was voted as a team captain in 2022.
Guard: Connor McGovern
Connor McGovern started 35 games in Happy valley before declaring for the 2019 NFL Draft where he was selected in the third round by the Dallas Cowboys.
Although McGovern played both center and right guard at Penn State, I selected him here at right guard, where he played during his final season in 2018 and earned Penn State’s Dick Maginnis Memorial Award for most outstanding offensive lineman. McGovern was an exceptional player for three seasons at Penn State, playing in 13 games as a true freshman on the 2016 Penn State team that won the Big Ten, including making 9 starts.
Tackle: Ryan Bates
Ryan Bates injury against Ohio State in 2017 could be seen as one of the main reasons that Penn State ended up losing that game and the game against Michigan State and missing the playoff in 2017.
An integral part of the offensive line in 2016, 2017, and 2018, Bates made 34 starts in blue and white at left tackle, right tackle, and left guard. After declaring early for the NFL Draft after the 2018 season, Bates went undrafted but landed with the Buffalo Bills, where he has started 19 games.
Now as Penn State Football opens camp for the 2023 season, fans can hope that every one of these names will be replaced with a member of the 2023 Penn State team as the team fights to return to the Big Ten Championship game and make a run at the College Football playoff.