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1. Turning the page
The goal of the sanctions is to pound the NCAA's fist down and declare that what's wrong is wrong. On a case this terrible the organization simply can't be soft, can't worry about procedure, can't rely on the same old failed methods of enforcement, Emmert is arguing, according to sources.
This was an unheard of scandal, with what the Freeh report concluded was a breathless cover-up at the highest levels. Now comes a similar trailblazing response from the NCAA. [...]
The kids always pay for the sins of the father. The ripples of Penn State's concealment of Sandusky were felt far and wide. Now the punishment will as well. Although, it's worth noting, losing a few more football games isn't the end of the world. [...]
Once Mark Emmert concluded Penn State was wrong, he was going to do his part to set it right by charting a direct and long-forgotten course of action.
For either two years or 50, Penn State football has been a trading post for rhetoric. Joe Paterno's decades-long proclamations of football as avenue for a greater good invited praise and the building of statues; it also invited its share of "yeah, right" cynicism from a relatively quiet minority.
When the Jerry Sandusky conviction (and Penn State's complicity in either covering things up or not doing enough to expose him) brought Paterno's tenure to a close in the fall of 2011, rhetoric turned into a weapon from both directions. Paterno was a hypocritical scumbag, a victim, a patsy, and a gentle soul who died of a broken heart.
When the NCAA's nuclear sanctions came down in summer 2012, rhetoric coalesced in an odd way. Almost everybody agreed that the NCAA probably overstepped its bounds by laying waste to the PSU football program, instituting a long postseason ban, massive scholarship reductions, fines, and a vindictive number of vacated Paterno wins. But there was still division between scorched-earth "They should have done even more" and yearning "Well, they had to do something" attitudes ... along with the "Yeah, this sets an insane precedent" approach taken by both Paterno loyalists and, well, Bomani Jones.
Blind justice still feels like justice in the short term, but it often leads to regret. No matter how you feel about Penn State's punishments today -- whether you feel the egregiousness of the offenses still justifies unprecedented sanctions, or whether you feel this did nothing but punish the wrong people from the start -- the NCAA has backed down a bit. Scholarship reductions have changed from a maximum of 15 signees per class and a maximum of 75 players on the roster in 2014-15 to 25 and 80 in 2015-16 and the normal 25 and 85 in 2016-17. What felt to some like justifiable overreach began to simply feel like overreach. This is usually the case when public opinion meets punitive punishment.
Depth and injuries could still be an issue for Penn State in the next couple of seasons, but there's no question that, two seasons into post-Paterno life, the worst is behind the Nittany Lions. The scholarships are coming back, and if you squint, you can see another postseason bid on the horizon.
The new-day vibe goes beyond the sanctions, however. After two years of basically serving as program caretaker following Paterno's demise, head coach Bill O'Brien left for the Houston Texans. His replacement is a Pennsylvania soul who spent the last three years bringing that vibe to Vanderbilt. James Franklin, product of Langhorne, Pa., and East Stroudsburg University -- the most Pennsylvania-sounding Pennsylvania university -- is the new man in charge. He is a micro-manager and, to date, a winner. His identity engulfs all others, and his hiring would have made this feel like a fresh new era at Penn State even if one hadn't been needed.
It felt like Franklin was in charge in Nashville for longer than three years, didn't it? Franklin took over for Robbie Caldwell beginning in 2011, and after attending three bowls in 55 years, the Commodores attended three in three. They mastered the art of the little things, going 6-2 in one-possession games over the last two years, keeping the pace tamped down, and taking advantage of seemingly every opponent mistake. They leaned on you until you fell, and they figured out how to recruit well at one of the more difficult recruiting venues in major college football.
Franklin, who, it bears mentioning, is not without his own controversies, brought most of his staff with him from Nashville. They have closed ranks in terms of local recruiting, already landing 16 commitments for the 2015 recruiting class (11 of which are four-star recruits according to both Rivals.com and the 247 Sports composite rankings). They have begun to instill their methods on the current roster.
No hire is a slam dunk, but as the sun begins to shine again in Happy Valley, it's hard not to see this working out pretty well. It just sort of feels right, and perhaps for the right reasons this time. For college football's overall health, we can only hope that's the case, and we can only hope that glowing, growing rhetoric doesn't backfire again.
2013 Schedule & Results
|Record: 7-5 | Adj. Record: 8-4 | Final F/+ Rk: 61|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L||5-gm Adj. Avg.|
|31-Aug||vs. Syracuse||75||23-17||W||21.9 - 10.3||W|
|7-Sep||Eastern Michigan||124||45-7||W||27.3 - 12.9||W|
|14-Sep||Central Florida||21||31-34||L||43.3 - 32.7||W|
|21-Sep||Kent State||106||34-0||W||26.7 - 6.4||W|
|5-Oct||at Indiana||56||24-44||L||14.3 - 24.3||L||9.4|
|12-Oct||Michigan||37||43-40||W||22.8 - 20.0||W||7.6|
|26-Oct||at Ohio State||9||14-63||L||26.6 - 40.9||L||1.9|
|2-Nov||Illinois||71||24-17||W||24.5 - 27.6||L||-0.9|
|9-Nov||at Minnesota||55||10-24||L||28.8 - 26.9||W||-4.5|
|16-Nov||Purdue||114||45-21||W||34.4 - 37.1||L||-3.1|
|23-Nov||Nebraska||39||20-23||L||26.3 - 19.3||W||-2.2|
|30-Nov||at Wisconsin||19||31-24||W||48.9 - 22.1||W||6.0|
|Points Per Game||28.7||69||26.2||60|
|Adj. Points Per Game||28.8||59||23.4||23|
2. A late rally
That O'Brien was able to go 15-9 in Penn State's two dark years, despite solid 2012 attrition and a 2013 season fraught with shaky play in the secondary and youth at quarterback, is an incredible accomplishment. The Nittany Lions were not nearly as good in 2013 as they had been during a surprising 2012 campaign, but they rallied late.
- Adj. Points Per Game (first 8 games): PSU 25.9, Opponent 21.9 (plus-4.0)
- Adj. Points Per Game (last 4 games): PSU 34.6, Opponent 26.4 (plus-8.2)
After playing at a below-average level in seven of the first eight games, Penn State was between above average and excellent in three of the last four. And the season ended with by far the best performance of the season, a road upset of an excellent Wisconsin team.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||44.0%||58||Succ. Rt. +||94.4||81|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||31.4||97||Def. FP+||97.4||84|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.0||84||Redzone S&P+||96.1||79|
|Q1 Rk||96||1st Down Rk||90|
|Q2 Rk||60||2nd Down Rk||71|
|Q3 Rk||100||3rd Down Rk||72|
Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Christian Hackenberg||6'4, 220||So.||5 stars (6.1)||231||392||2955||20||10||58.9%||21||5.1%||6.8|
|D.J. Crook||6'1, 200||RSFr.||NR|
|Michael O'Connor||6'4, 226||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
3. You have our attention, Hackenberg
Landing quarterback Christian Hackenberg despite NCAA sanctions was an absolute coup for O'Brien and his staff. The bluest of blue-chip recruits, Hackenberge probably could have benefited from a little bit of time served as an understudy, but he was forced into action from Day 1. (That was perhaps part of the draw of signing with PSU in the first place.) For a while, it seemed like things would work out just fine. He produced a passer rating of at least 152 in each of his first three starts (two wins) and completed 21 of 28 passes for 262 yards and no interceptions against a pretty active UCF defense.
Over the next eight games, however, his production faded. He only hit the 150-point mark in QB rating once in that span and completed fewer than 55 percent of his passes five times. He was 13-for-35 against Kent State, 12-for-23 with two interceptions against Ohio State, and 16-for-33 against Nebraska. He had basically a one-man receiving corps and a running game with no explosiveness, so he was asked to create a lot on his own, and there were predictable growing pains.
Then came the finale. Hackenberg completed 21 of 30 passes for 339 yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions against a Wisconsin defense that ranked ninth in the country in Def. F/+. That's how you get attention.
The hype is building further for Hackenberg, but so are the challenges. With the departures of Allen Robinson and Brandon Felder, he must find new recipients for half of his passes -- the leading returning receiver caught 18 passes last year -- and a line that held up pretty well against blitzing must replace four of its top six players. Plus, while there's experience and potential efficiency in the run game, there is still very little proven big-play ability. Hackenberg's own development will help, but his supporting cast still leaves something to be desired.
|Zach Zwinak||RB||6'1, 240||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||210||989||12||4.7||3.8||37.1%|
|Bill Belton||RB||5'10, 205||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||157||803||5||5.1||3.4||47.1%|
|Akeel Lynch||RB||6'0, 211||So.||3 stars (5.7)||60||358||1||6.0||4.6||45.0%|
|Christian Hackenberg||QB||6'4, 220||So.||5 stars (6.1)||28||58||4||2.1||3.4||17.9%|
|Deron Thompson||RB||5'10, 205||Jr.||NR|
|Nick Scott||RB||6'0, 190||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Johnathan Thomas||RB||5'11, 220||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Jesse James||TE||6'7, 257||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||39||25||333||64.1%||10.1%||44.4%||8.5||30||8.8||41.7|
|Geno Lewis||WR||6'1, 201||So.||4 stars (5.9)||36||18||234||50.0%||9.3%||41.9%||6.5||-16||6.7||29.3|
|Kyle Carter||TE||6'3, 243||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||29||18||222||62.1%||7.5%||54.2%||7.7||0||7.6||27.8|
|Richy Anderson||WR||5'11, 175||So.||3 stars (5.5)||25||13||111||52.0%||6.5%||36.0%||4.4||-65||4.4||13.9|
|Bill Belton||RB||5'10, 205||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||23||15||158||65.2%||5.9%||35.0%||6.9||-22||7.4||19.8|
|Adam Breneman||TE||6'4, 235||So.||4 stars (6.0)||19||15||186||78.9%||4.9%||77.8%||9.8||21||8.2||23.3|
|Matt Zanellato||WR||6'3, 203||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||9||4||53||44.4%||2.3%||62.5%||5.9||-6||6.6||6.6|
|Jonathan Warner||WR||6'1, 199||So.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Gregg Garrity||WR||5'9, 147||So.||NR|
|DaeSean Hamilton||WR||6'1, 198||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|DeAndre Thompkins||WR||5'11, 171||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Chris Godwin||WR||6'2, 205||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Saeed Blacknall||WR||6'2, 210||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Mike Gesicki||TE||6'6, 245||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Troy Apke||WR||6'2, 195||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)|
4. When your lone play-maker leaves...
Penn State ranked 106th in IsoPPP+, an opponent-adjusted measure of the magnitude of your big plays. The Nittany Lions had only 48 gains of 20+ yards in 2013 (95th in the country) and only 11 20+ rushes (99th). Any big-play potential came from the passing game, and most of that was derived from Robinson, who averaged 14.8 yards per catch.
PSU's two most proven big-play guys are now a tight end (Jesse James) and a receiver (Geno Lewis) whose decent 13.0 yards-per-catch average was negated by a dreadful 50 percent catch rate. The tight end position has all sorts of potential -- James, Kyle Carter, and Adam Breneman combined for 58 catches at 8.5 yards per target with a 67 percent catch rate -- but wideouts are a clear, obvious concern.
They were also a focus of the 2014 recruiting class, in fact. PSU inked three four-star receivers (plus a three-star sprint champion in Troy Apke) and a four-star tight end. If they prove themselves in August, there will probably be be plenty of playing time available in September and beyond.
|John Urschel||RG||24||Campbell Trophy, 1st All-Big Ten|
|Miles Dieffenbach||LG||6'3, 295||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||23|
|Donovan Smith||LT||6'5, 322||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||20|
|Angelo Mangiro||LG||6'3, 304||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0|
|Anthony Alosi||RG||6'4, 283||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0|
|Derek Dowrey||LG||6'3, 303||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0|
|Wendy Laurent||C||6'2, 284||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0|
|Albert Hall||LT||6'4, 245||So.||NR||0|
|Brendan Mahon||RG||6'4, 305||RSFr.||4 stars (6.0)|
|Andrew Nelson||RT||6'5, 297||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Andrew Terlingo||LG||6'4, 294||RSFr.||NR|
|Noah Beh||OL||6'6, 260||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)|
5. Herb Hand's got some work to do
Classic schemes and a talent surge
•SBNation.comJames Franklin and his staff will modernize Penn State's Xs and Os somewhat, but the real upgrade will be in the Jimmys and Joes.
Evaluating line play with statistics is, and will always be, a difficult thing. We do our best with Adj. Line Yards and Adj. Sack Rate, but obviously runners' ability to take advantage of blocking and quarterbacks' ability to properly read the pocket, get rid of the ball in a timely fashion, and/or escape the pocket at the right time will forever bleed into these general measures.
In 2013, Vanderbilt's line, led by new PSU O line coach Herb Hand, didn't grade out well. The Commodores ranked 101st in Adj. Line Yards and 94th in Adj. Sack Rate. But if you watched Vandy games, you got the impression that a lot of that was probably due to inefficient running backs and, over the final few games of the season, a young, hesitant quarterback. Vandy was successful in short-yardage situations, and as a whole, they didn't end up with a lot of negative run plays. They kept the ball moving forward.
Penn State's line, meanwhile, was excellent at avoiding negative run plays and passing downs sacks. Its runners didn't necessarily have the jets to create big plays out of the blocks they received, and short-yardage situations were a struggle, but last year's stats might not matter much, not only because the line has a new leader in Hand, but also because it will probably have four new starters.
With two-year starter Miles Dieffenbach out with injury, Penn State might start the season with only one player with starting experience up front (Donovan Smith). We'll see how both Hackenberg and offensive coordinator John Donovan handle potentially shaky play up front.
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||38.6%||28||Succ. Rt. +||114.1||20|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||30.8||52||Off. FP+||103.5||23|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.0||48||Redzone S&P+||100.9||55|
|Q1 Rk||30||1st Down Rk||19|
|Q2 Rk||60||2nd Down Rk||28|
|Q3 Rk||19||3rd Down Rk||41|
6. Opponents knew to pass
Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop inherits a defense that, despite some shuffling at linebacker, played spectacular run defense for most of the year. The Nittany Lions ranked eighth in Rushing S&P+ and allowed more than 195 rushing yards just twice all season. (Granted, one of those was Ohio State's 408-yard, six-touchdown performance.) They held Wisconsin to 120 yards, which was almost as stunning as what Hackenberg did to the Badgers' defense.
For about 10 of 12 games, Penn State forced opponents to go one-dimensional, and while that worked out reasonably well, it would have been better if the pass defense hadn't had a bit of a problem with big plays. The secondary was often aggressive, but not always successful. Experience should plug some holes here and there, as should Shoop's and Franklin's relative bend-don't-break philosophy -- Vandy ranked 82nd in Success Rate+, but 12th in IsoPPP+ in 2013 -- but pass defense remains the question mark heading into 2014.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|C.J. Olaniyan||DE||6'3, 244||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||12||39.0||5.9%||11.0||5.0||1||2||3||0|
|Austin Johnson||DT||6'4, 302||So.||3 stars (5.5)||12||20.5||3.1%||3.0||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Deion Barnes||DE||6'4, 245||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||12||20.0||3.0%||4.0||2.0||0||2||1||0|
|Anthony Zettel||DT||6'4, 258||Jr.||4 stars (5.9)||12||13.5||2.1%||6.0||4.0||1||2||0||0|
|Carl Nassib||DE||6'6, 244||Jr.||NR||10||11.5||1.8%||2.0||1.0||0||1||1||0|
|Tyrone Smith||DT||6'4, 264||Sr.||NR||8||4.0||0.6%||1.5||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Evan Schwan||DE||6'6, 245||So.||2 stars (5.4)||5||2.5||0.4%||0.5||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Brian Gaia||DT||6'3, 280||So.||3 stars (5.7)||12||2.5||0.4%||0.5||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Brad Bars||DE||6'3, 251||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Garrett Sickels||DE||6'4, 254||RSFr.||4 stars (5.9)|
|Curtis Cothran||DE||6'5, 240||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Parker Cothren||DT||6'5, 276||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Tarow Barney||DT||6'1, 290||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Mike Hull||MLB||6'0, 227||Sr.||4 stars (5.9)||10||61.0||9.3%||4.5||0.5||0||2||1||0|
|Nyeem Wartman||OLB||6'1, 241||So.||3 stars (5.7)||11||24.5||3.7%||2.5||1.0||0||4||1||0|
|Brandon Bell||OLB||6'1, 226||So.||3 stars (5.6)||10||19.0||2.9%||0.0||0.0||0||0||1||0|
|Ben Kline||MLB||6'2, 229||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||6||13.5||2.1%||1.5||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Gary Wooten||OLB||6'2, 238||So.||3 stars (5.6)||10||4.5||0.7%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Charles Idemudia||OLB||5'11, 237||So.||NR||5||1.5||0.2%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Adam Cole||OLB||5'11, 219||So.||NR|
|Troy Reeder||LB||6'2, 235||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)|
7. A deep front seven
DaQuan Jones (a fourth-round NFL Draft choice) and Glenn Carson were outstanding defensive anchors for Penn State, and we shouldn't write off their absences by any means.
Still, the experience in the front seven is exciting. Five of seven primary defensive linemen and four of six linebackers return, and there's a nice mix of experience and exciting youth.
Senior Mike Hull moves to middle linebacker from the outside, and experienced ends C.J. Olaniyan and Deion Barnes lead the way up front. But there will be room for talented freshmen and sophomores in the rotation. From the sophomore class, you've got big tackle Austin Johnson and outsider linebackers Nyeem Wartman and Brandon Bell, all of whom saw quite a bit of playing time last season. Plus, redshirt freshmen Curtis Cothran and Parker Cothren each finished the spring on the second string, with blue-chipper Garrett Sickels still looking to make an impact. It's not hard to see both the present and future tenses working out pretty well for the PSU front seven.
C.J. Olaniyan. Rich Barnes, USA Today
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Jordan Lucas||CB||6'0, 193||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||12||55.0||8.4%||4.5||1||3||13||2||0|
|Adrian Amos||S||6'0, 215||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||12||41.0||6.2%||4||2.5||1||5||0||0|
|Ryan Keiser||S||6'1, 205||Sr.||NR||11||32.0||4.9%||2||1||3||8||0||0|
|Trevor Williams||CB||6'1, 187||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||12||20.5||3.1%||0||0||2||8||0||0|
|Jesse Della Valle||S||6'1, 190||Sr.||NR||12||17.0||2.6%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Malik Golden||S||6'1, 195||So.||3 stars (5.5)||12||5.5||0.8%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Da'Quan Davis||CB||5'10, 164||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||7||4.5||0.7%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Jordan Smith||CB||5'11, 183||So.||2 stars (5.4)||12||4.0||0.6%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Jesse Merise||CB||5'8, 180||Jr.||NR||7||3.5||0.5%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Dad Poquie||DB||5'10, 180||So.||NR||7||2.5||0.4%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Devin Pryor||CB||5'10, 174||Jr.||NR|
|Anthony Smith||S||6'0, 186||So.||2 stars (5.2)|
|Colin Harrop||S||6'0, 167||So.||NR|
|Kasey Gaines||CB||5'10, 165||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Koa Farmer||DB||6'1, 205||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
8. Experience means fewer breakdowns?
In terms of individual stats, it's not hard to like the potential of PSU's secondary as well. Cornerbacks Jordan Lucas and Trevor Williams combined for 4.5 tackles for loss and 26 interceptions or break-ups as sophomores, and safeties Adrian Amos and Ryan Keiser combined for six and 17, respectively. Those numbers are somewhere between above average and very good.
But the plays they didn't make were damaging.
It's probably not a coincidence that opponents averaged 2.3 more yards per completion in Penn State losses (12.8) than wins (10.5) last year. Big plays weren't costly in every game, but when the PSU pass defense grew leaky, the offense usually failed to compensate. With more offensive question marks in 2014, the defense needs to get a bit more stable in the big-play department.
|Sam Ficken||6'2, 184||Sr.||67||60.9||18||0||26.9%|
|Sam Ficken||6'2, 184||Sr.||41-42||10-14||71.4%||5-9||55.6%|
|Geno Lewis||KR||6'1, 201||So.||22||22.3||0|
|Von Walker||KR||5'11, 199||So.||6||16.5||0|
|Jesse Della Valle||PR||6'1, 190||Sr.||18||8.7||0|
|Von Walker||PR||5'11, 199||So.||4||4.8||0|
|Special Teams F/+||112|
|Field Goal Efficiency||86|
|Punt Return Efficiency||58|
|Kick Return Efficiency||114|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||49|
9. Shoring up special teams
Special teams units are always volatile, always prone to major shifts from year to year. In 2013, the shift was negative for Penn State; the Nittany Lions fell from 50th to 96th in Special Teams F/+, struggling in basically every category other than punt returns (and really, only returning punts at a mediocre level). Kicker Sam Ficken has a big leg (5-for-9 on field goals longer than 40 yards), but he missed too many sub-40 kicks, and he only managed touchbacks on a quarter of his kickoffs. Meanwhile, kick returns were just about non-existent.
But on the bright side, punter Alex Butterworth won't be too difficult to replace, I guess. If Ficken grows a bit more consistent and a young return man breaks through, this unit could improve pretty quickly. But those are obviously not guaranteed.
2014 Schedule & Projection Factors
|30-Aug||vs. Central Florida||27|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||11.6% (26)|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||33|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||-2 / 1.6|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||13 (6, 7)|
10. A top-30 team might go 10-2
It's hard to know what to think about Penn State in 2014. We know the future is looking brighter and brighter, but that's the future. This fall, the offense could lack for play-makers, and the offensive line could struggle with inexperience (while protecting a quarterback who is still only a true sophomore himself). And while the overall defense should be solid (or better than solid), we don't yet know how much better the pass defense is going to be.
We do know that James Franklin was able to engineer immediate, sustainable improvement at Vanderbilt. After ranking 82nd and 101st in the F/+ rankings in 2009-10, the Commodores ranked 39th, 50th, and 50th in 2011-13. We also know that even with scholarship reductions, Franklin's inheriting a more talented, athletic roster in Happy Valley.
We also know that there are wins on the table. If Franklin is able to bump this team into the top 30, then the schedule could set up for 10 wins or more. The only two projected top-25 teams on the schedule (Ohio State and Michigan State) come to Penn State, and there are only two other opponents projected better than 47th. Go 2-2 in those four games and win the games you're supposed to win, and you've got 10-2.
Still, a top-30 finish might be too much to ask. For one thing, Franklin never pulled that off at Vanderbilt, even while going 18-8 in 2012-13. For another, despite late improvement, Penn State did still rank just 61st last year.
Penn State might instead top out around 8-4 or 9-3 this fall, but again ... considering where this program appeared to be headed 22 months ago, that's quite impressive. And considering the youth of the team overall, the awesome recruiting, and the fading sanctions, it's impossible not to like where this program might be in a few years even if it's still having to settle for only being good in the short run.