Penn State Football: A Statistical Look at James Franklin's Vanderbilt Success

Tim TolleyContributor IJanuary 15, 2014

Jan 4, 2014; Birmingham, AL, USA;  Vanderbilt Commodores Coach James Franklin during the 2014 Compass Bowl at Legion Field. The Commodores defeated the Cougars 41-24. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports
Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

It's uncommon for someone to become one of the hottest coaching candidates in the country by winning just nine games two seasons in a row, but that's precisely what Penn State's new head football coach James Franklin did by going 9-4 in back-to-back seasons at Vanderbilt.

The key word is "Vanderbilt."

Despite being known as one of the premier educational facilities in the country, Vanderbilt has been a bottom feeder in the football world for nearly its entire existence. The combination of high academic standards, proximity to the University of Tennessee, sub-standard football facilities and playing in the SEC made the football world tough sledding for the Commodores.

That is, until Franklin came along.

Vanderbilt Football Seasons With Nine-Plus Wins
YEARRECORD
19049-0
19159-1
2012*9-4
2013*9-4
* Under James Franklin.
Sports-Reference.com

He was able to do things at Vanderbilt that had never been done before, like winning nine games in consecutive years, winning back-to-back bowl games and going to three bowls in a row. Vanderbilt also beat Tennessee in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1925-26, and the nine conference wins in 2012-13 were the most in a two-year span since 1934-35, according to the Sports-Reference.com.

Winning nine games and being ranked twice in two years aren't huge accomplishments in themselves, but the improvement of Vanderbilt to get to that level was astounding.

In the two seasons leading up to Franklin's at Vandy, the football team was 4-20, with three of those wins coming against Eastern Michigan, Western Carolina and Rice. In 2013 alone, Vanderbilt beat Georgia, Florida and Tennessee, and no matter how down those programs are, the quality of wins has obviously changed.

Vanderbilt Win Totals: 2000-2013
20003
20012
20022
20032
20042
20055
20064
20075
20087
20092
20102
2011*6
2012*9
2013*9
* Under James Franklin
Sports-Reference.com

From 2000-2010, Vanderbilt averaged just 3.27 wins per year with a .279 winning percentage. After taking over in 2011, Franklin averaged eight wins with a .615 winning percentage. In fact, the Commodores won more than three games just nine times in the 23 seasons before he took over. In that same time, they beat their bitter rival Tennessee just once.

Under Franklin, Vanderbilt has won the last two against the Volunteers.

In addition to on-field performance, Franklin took Vandy's recruiting to a whole new level.

According to 247Sports, the Commodores roster didn't include a single 4-star recruit when the first-time head coach took over. In the three cycles since, Vanderbilt has signed six of them.

While it's statistically impossible for Penn State to expect the same spike in success that Vanderbilt experienced under Franklin, the sky is the limit for the Nittany Lions program going forward. 

Vanderbilt Offense and Defensive
Points Per GamePoints Allowed Per Game
200819.219.6
200916.323.3
201016.931.2
2011*26.721.6
2012*3018.7
2013*30.124.6
* Under James Franklin
CFBStats.com

Franklin is a fierce, young head coach who is passionate about recruiting and has shown the ability to win, regardless of the circumstances. That's just what Penn State is looking for as it prepares to put the sanctions behind it and begin a new era of Nittany Lions football.