Credit where it’s due: Franklin’s star shines

PISCATAWAY, N.J. — James Franklin was announced as a semifinalist for the George Munger national coach of the year award Friday.

There are 16 candidates, and Franklin is as worthy as any of his peers and more worthy than most.

Don’t be surprised if he wins it.

Following Penn State’s 39-0 victory over Rutgers on Saturday night at High Point Solutions Stadium, Franklin now has the Nittany Lions at 9-2 with one regular-season game left against Michigan State.

Should Ohio State defeat Michigan in Columbus next Saturday, Penn State would be in position, with a victory over the Spartans, to clinch a berth in its first Big Ten championship game as well as remaining in strong consideration for the College Football Playoff.

Who, seriously, would have envisioned this conversation two months ago?

Franklin overcame a rough September, in which the Lions fell behind Pitt 28-7 before nearly pulling off a stunning victory (instead losing 42-39) and limped out of the month 2-2 after a 49-10 drubbing in Ann Arbor.

But Franklin didn’t panic.

The players started watching more film together on Mondays (which is supposed to be the players’ off day), got their injured linebackers back, bonded and started rolling.

The overtime victory over Minnesota breathed some needed confidence into the season, Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley began thriving, and then the Lions hung around long enough against Ohio State for Marcus Allen and Grant Haley to etch their fingerprints into Penn State’s history book.

Since then, the offense and defense have taken turns carrying the load — it was the defense Saturday night against hapless Rutgers — and the Nits’ winning streak has hit seven.

ESPN lead analyst Kirk Herbstreit on Saturday called Penn State “the story of the year in college football.”

He’s right.

You can’t assess the coaching job that has gone on at Penn State over the last five years without acknowledging the difficult — nearly impossible — circumstances under which the program has functioned.

Finally, this season, with their sanctions gone and their scholarships fully restored, the re-emergence has taken place.

Franklin not only kept the Lions on an even keel, their degree of improvement has been tremendous — be it at halftime or from game to game and certainly now season to season as he’s guided Penn State back to a national platform.

His hiring of Joe Moorhead and his promotion of Brent Pry have been excellent.

In fact, it’s fascinating that fans want to credit the assistants, and yet were quite content to grumble away about Franklin the last couple of years and through September.

It’s an unfair way of judging a coach who admittedly is more CEO than playcaller, more recruiter than tactician.

By this warped logic, a coach can show up with inferior talent and get credit for being a strategist while a guy like Franklin who is recruiting harder than Penn State ever has somehow isn’t coach of the year material.

Which is, of course, ridiculous.

Franklin may not win the national coach of the year coin flip, but he sure should be accorded the Big Ten’s top honors.

Beyond the national championships, the best of the best single-season coaching jobs at Penn State over the last 50 years would include Joe Paterno’s work in 1985 when he brought the Lions from 6-5 in 1984 all the way back to a battle with Oklahoma for No. 1 in the Orange Bowl, and Bill O’Brien’s incredible crisis management in 2012.

And this season under Franklin, especially if Penn State can squeeze out a win over the Spartans and land in the Big Ten final, qualifies.

For not only has he put this program back to where it has aspired to be, James Franklin is building toward the future as the Nittany Lions graduate just five starters.

The ballot box is open.

Rudel can be reached at nrudel@altoonamirror.com.

Following are the semifinals for the George Munger Coach of the Year Award, presented by the Maxwell Club:

Nick Saban — Alabama

Mike MacIntyre — Colorado

Bobby Petrino — Louisville

Jim Harbaugh — Michigan

Urban Meyer — Ohio State

James Franklin — Penn State

Neal Brown — Troy

Ken Niumatalolo — Navy

Scott Frost — UCF

Kyle Whittingham — Utah

Justin Fuente — Virginia Tech

Chris Petersen — Washington

Mike Leach — Washington State

Dana Holgorsen — West Virginia

P.J. Fleck — Western Michigan

Paul Chryst — Wisconsin

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