To underestimate James Franklin at Penn State is to ignore Vanderbilt's history

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Vanderbilt won a lot with new Penn State head coach James Franklin in charge, but it didn't set the world on fire. The thing we have to remember is how little the Dores won before Franklin took over.

Will James Franklin succeed at Penn State? I don't know. PSU's certainly going all-in on it, reportedly giving him a six-year deal worth top-10 money.

We have reasons to doubt he'll win in the Big Ten. It's a bigger job on a bigger stage, the NCAA's scholarship and bowl ban sanctions are ongoing, and he hasn't proved he's capable of winning over a period of many years.

But we have even more reasons to believe Penn State made an excellent hire. While it's not essential that we all agree on this, because we are all free people, let's take a look at three of the least-valid common objections to Franklin's hire.

Franklin only beat four winning FBS teams in three years.

The only teams Franklin's Vanderbilt beat that finished with winning records: 8-5 Georgia and 8-5 Houston in 2013, and 7-6 Ole Miss and 7-6 NC State in 2012. A handful of others would've finished better than .500 if they hadn't gone and lost to Vandy, but that's fine. Four is the number.

How many teams with winning records did Vanderbilt beat in the 28 years before Franklin arrived? The answer's 14, with five of them by Bobby Johnson's 2008 team that tore out to 5-0 before losing six of its last eight.

Outside of 2008, the previous three decades at Vanderbilt were highlighted by wins here and there over Duke, Wake Forest, and Kentucky, plus the occasional down-on-its-luck SEC power like 1984 Alabama, which finished 5-6.

James Franklin was the first Vanderbilt head coach to beat multiple winning teams in back-to-back seasons since Steve Sloan in 1973-1974 -- and Sloan's only counts because the 1978 Division I-A/I-AA split hadn't happened yet, which means beating 1974's VMI and 1973's Tampa and William & Mary counted as top-level wins.

Vanderbilt hasn't had back-to-back seasons with wins over teams who are currently in FBS since 1950-1951, when it beat 9-2 Alabama, 6-3-1 Ole Miss, 7-3-1 LSU, and a handful of mid-majors who'd go on to eventually join FBS conferences, like Memphis.

Bringing up wins over winning teams only makes Franklin's work at Vanderbilt look better.

Franklin didn't turn Vanderbilt into Stanford or Baylor.

Those teams have been better than Vanderbilt. But as far as Stanford goes, this overlooks everything.

Stanford finished ranked in final AP polls 13 times before Jim Harbaugh and David Shaw came along, including five top-10 finishes. Vanderbilt ranked in the final top 25 once before Franklin, and it was 65 years ago.

Stanford had more Rose Bowl wins than Vanderbilt had bowl trips.

The school of Pop Warner, Bill Walsh, John Elway, and Jim Plunkett was in a Rose Bowl eight years before Harbaugh, with nine bowl trips since 1977. Stanford had five Rose Bowl wins outside of the Harbaugh/Shaw era; Vanderbilt had four bowl trips outside of the Franklin era.

Bringing up Stanford also only makes Franklin look better.

As for Baylor? Now we can talk. Franklin's overhaul in three years was nowhere near as definitive and resounding as what Art Briles has done in six at Baylor. No one will confuse outlasting broken Georgia and Florida teams with blowing out an Oklahoma team that would beat Alabama.

But let's remember Franklin has nine more wins and two more bowl wins after three years than Briles had. (And, if we want to stay on Stanford, Franklin's 24 wins and two bowl wins also top the 17 and one Harbaugh put up in his first three at Stanford.)

Baylor, Stanford, and Vanderbilt -- along with schools like Duke, Georgia Tech, Northwestern, and Wake Forest -- are all interesting studies when compared to each other. But remember they're not seven shades of the same program. History strongly suggests winning at Vanderbilt is harder than winning at Stanford.

Yeah, but can he win without Bobby Johnson's and Robbie Caldwell's players?

That sounds like a silly objection. But the claim is being made that because Vandy was good in 2008, Franklin simply continued it along its established trajectory. Of course, Vandy won four games between 2008 and Franklin's hire.

Commodore recruiting ranked in the 20s and 30s nationally under Franklin. It ranked in the 50s and 60s before. Talent acquisition at Penn State is not a concern, especially considering he's a Pennsylvania native with connections throughout Maryland's turf. The Terps, for one, are f***ed.

If Franklin fails at Penn State, it won't be because of talent. This is an odd item to even address, but it's out there.

What else?

How would you grade Penn State's hire? Any other major concerns we're missing here?

More from SB Nation college football:

To die at the Rose Bowl: Spencer Hall on the last BCS Championship

Plot twists and the ends: Bill Connelly on the Championship’s numbers

Florida State: The SEC’s worst nightmare

How FSU and Auburn were built: Why recruiting matters so much

College football news | Lane Kiffin works for Nick Saban now

Long CFB reads | The death of a college football player

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