Are Penn State Football, James Franklin Finally About to Break Through to ‘elite’?

Penn State Football, James Franklin
Penn State Football head coach James Franklin(Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire)

The moment is ingrained in recent Penn State Football history.

It’s September 29th, 2018. Penn State Football has just suffered its second one point loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes in as many years.

James Franklin is about to give the most impassioned post game press conference we have seen in his now 9 year tenure at the helm of the Nittany Lions. The summary of his post Game remarks was simple, Penn State Football is going to do all the little things to be an elite football program.

Four years have passed since that post game speech by Franklin and the question still looms over Happy Valley.

When will that ‘elite’ status be reached?

Franklin and company haven’t beaten OSU since 2016, holding a 1-9 record against the Buckeyes, and a 3-6 record against the Michigan Wolverines. The two programs who are, and have been, the gold standard of success in the Big Ten, and frankly the two teams Penn State continues to chase.

Coming off what was an extremely successful season with Penn State finishing 11-2 and a Rose Bowl championship under its belt, the buzz in Happy Valley is back.

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How do Penn State Football and James Franklin and company finally break through to elite, and can it happen in 2023?

Telling the future is impossible for everyone, but Penn State fans have plenty of reason to believe this could finally be the season.

Drew Allar, the Medina Ohio native, looks to be ready to take over the reigns as QB. The highly recruited 5-star prospect saw some playing time in 2022, and was able to learn and develop behind the veteran Sean Clifford.

Penn State’s ability to punch through and enter that elite conversation, rest largely on the performance of the sophomore 18 year old quarterback.

In the short reps we were able to see Allar play in 2022, it’s easy to see why he was highly sought after by major college programs. The arm talent jumps off the screen, Allar can spin a football. His size is hard to ignore standing at 6-5, 238 pounds, and his pocket presence for a true freshman in 2022 was farther along than expected.

And even though Allar will need to perform and Penn State Football will succeed as Allar succeeds there are other aspects working in his favor heading into 2023.

Allar will play behind one of the better offensive lines Penn State Football has seen during Franklins tenure.

Juice Scruggs leaving for the NFL draft is a big loss, but Hunter Nourzad will most likely slot into that center position. The transfer from Cornell was a stalwart along that offensive line in 2022.

Olu Fashanu returns, foregoing the NFL draft to return to Penn State. The future first round draft pick, should have Allar’s blind side well protected. Shelton, Tengwall, Wallace, and Wormley all return in 2023 to further help solidify what was a very good line in 2022.

Couple that solid offensive line with the ability to hand the ball off to Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen, Allar has plenty of talent around him to take that pressure off by leaning on what should be a very solid run game again.

Defensively, the Nittany Lions look to have another solid defense under second year defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.

Curtis Jacobs announced his return for 2023. Kalen King looks to take on the role Joey Porter Jr. leaves behind, and Abdul Carter should continue to get better. Zakee Wheatley, Dani Dennis-Sutton, Kobe King are just some of the other young names, that will have bigger roles for Diaz’s defense in 2023.

Will this be the year Penn State Football breaks through to elite?

It’s hard to predict this far out from that opening game against West Virginia, but Franklin and Penn State look poised to take that step.

Ohio State will have a new QB under center, and Michigan is in a weird spot dealing with the NCAA, and hitting the transfer portal hard.

The Big Ten east and the Big Ten at large is anyone’s guess.

Nothing is guaranteed in the game of college football, but don’t sleep on the Nittany Lions as the 2023 season approaches.

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