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Penn State Inspired Shows Fight, But Is The Ohio State Monster Too Much For James Franklin?

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Penn State Inspired Shows Fight, But Is The Ohio State Monster Too Much For James Franklin?

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Would you have blamed James Franklin for leaving Penn State for USC if this opportunity presented itself?

Everyone keeps asking this question. Depending on who answers, Franklin is either the hot contender or the head coach. Franklin is able to win in both places.

Still, Saturday’s 33-24 loss to the No.5 Ohio State once again showed why this West Coast outing makes sense. This is the Sisyphean nature of the Buckeyes Rock processing in the Big Ten East.

Penn State played Ohio State tough, especially in the first half. The Nittany Lions limited first-year phenomenon TreVeyon Henderson to nine carries for six yards and frustrated CJ Stroud. It was an inspired performance at Ohio Stadium.

It’s just that every time Penn State got close, the Buckeyes had an answer.

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Chris Olave caught a 38-yard touchdown with 3:48 left in the first half. Jerron Cage, a 305-pound defensive tackle, scolded 57 yards on a scoop and a score on the next possession. Just like that, the Nittany Lions lost 10 points.

Penn State did not resign. The Nittany Lions tied the score at 17 in the third quarter. Ohio State kicked a basket, then Henderson finally came undone for a 68-yard rush. Just like that, Penn State lost another 10 points.

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Even then the Nittany Lions scored again and it was a 27-24 game going into the fourth quarter. Clifford threw an interception and Penn State couldn’t score in the fourth quarter despite a no-light red zone defense that limited the Buckeyes to two field goals.

On Oct. 9, Penn State led Iowa 17-3 in the second quarter in a top-five showdown. Quarterback Sean Clifford was injured, however, and the Hawkeyes won a 23-20 thriller. If Clifford had stayed in the game, Penn State might have reached second place in the country. The Nine OT disaster against the Illini followed, and Ohio State turned down Penn State’s best shot in an upset. The Nittany Lions are 5-3 with Michigan and Michigan State still on the schedule.

It’s like the old Nationwide Insurance slogan: “Life comes to you quickly. By the way, this is a company based in Columbus, Ohio, and another reminder that the shadow of the state of Ohio is omnipresent in the Big Ten.

The Buckeyes are 22-0 in the Big Ten under third-year coach Ryan Day and are looking for a fifth straight conference championship. Franklin was the top competitor in this race. He’s a great recruiter, Penn State has three 11-game winning seasons under his watch and the talent development is there.

The Nittany Lions lost their lead in the fourth quarter in 2017 and 2018 with losses of one point. Their average loss margin in that five-game losing streak against OSU is 7.

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Penn State has proven that it can win a Big Ten Championship with Franklin. They did it in 2016 and beat Ohio State 24-21 in the regular season. The Buckeyes, however, made it to the college football playoffs instead because the Nittany Lions lost to Pitt and Michigan. Even when Penn State wins, they lost that battle.

So in reality it didn’t happen at Penn State so quickly. It’s just the nature of the beast of the state of Ohio. Michigan feels the brunt of it more than anyone. Wisconsin is feeling it in Big Ten Championship games. Penn State should know by now. Those three schools are now 1-24 against Ohio State since 2012.

There is a 4% chance that the rock will not come down the hill.

Let Jim Harbaugh and Paul Chryst keep pushing this rock. Michigan State Coach Mel Tucker? Have at it. Penn State’s next head coach will face the same ridiculous task.

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So the choice is this. Franklin could end speculation about his departure, keep pushing the rock, and wait for the expansion of the college football playoffs, where the Nittany Lions would be a semi-regular given that track record of success.

Or, Franklin could back-channel this USC job and use the same script that worked at Vanderbilt and Penn State. Franklin could make USC a Pac-12 champion, and he would improve talent with his recruiting touch. He would have to face Ohio State again, but at least that would be on the CFP scene.

Which school offers a better job? In the college football playoff era, the Nittany Lions have the best record at 65-30 compared to the Trojans at 59-33. He cuts hair into quarters from two programs that shake pretty much the same thing.

It’s a toss-up at best. You would respect Franklin to stay, compete, and keep pushing that rock to catch the Buckeyes.

But with the boulder at the bottom of the hill, you can’t fault it for trying another challenge.

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