Penn State Football: What Are James Franklin's Benchmarks for Success in 2014?
As you may have heard, the Penn State Nittany Lions football team will be led by a new head coach when they next take the field. Bill O'Brien has moved on to the NFL, and James Franklin is now the man in charge.
Also filed in the "not new news" section, Penn State is still under the thumb of NCAA sanctions, which have and will continue to limit the team's depth chart for at least one more season.
Depth issues combined with losing the team's best players on offense (Allen Robinson) and defense (DaQuan Jones, Glenn Carson) will create hurdles for Franklin as he tries to implement new systems on both sides of the ball.
Defensive upperclassmen like Mike Hull and Adrian Amos will be working with their fourth defensive coordinator in as many years while the offensive side of the ball is littered with youth and potential, more so than proven ability.
The Nittany Lions are in a transition, but they're on the right side of the change and expectations are cautiously growing.
With the inherent limitations and a tough schedule that includes Ohio State, Michigan State and a trip to Ann Arbor to face the Wolverines, Franklin is in for a tough campaign in his first season at Penn State.
A 12-win season is not likely, but all hope is not lost.
With a young core and strong recruiting efforts, the new coaching staff can use this season as a stepping stone toward something great, but they'll need to be successful in order to start that path in the right direction.
So, what exactly does Franklin need to accomplish to be deemed "successful" in 2014?
Continue the Maturation of Christian Hackenberg
Perhaps the most important component of Franklin's long-term success, quarterback coach Ricky Rahne will need to build on the foundation that Hackenberg and Bill O'Brien established.
"Hack" has all the physical and mental tools to become one of the best quarterbacks in the country, but he still has some fine-tuning to do when it comes to accuracy and decision-making.
If he can improve on his 20-touchdown freshman performance, it will ease the minds of Nittany Nation going forward as well as help the team win games in 2014.
Improve on Defense
Departed defensive coordinator John Butler took a lot of heat in 2013 as Penn State ranked 58th in scoring defense, 74th in passing defense, 53rd in interceptions and 86th in tackles for loss.
The new defensive staff, hailing primarily from Vanderbilt, put together a defensive unit that ranked 44th in scoring defense, 23rd in passing defense, 13th in interceptions and 29th in tackles for loss.
If the staff can improve on those areas alone in 2014, overall success will be a byproduct.
Win the Right Games
It's hard to look at a schedule and predict wins and losses, but it's easy to pick out the big games.
While Penn State beating Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State is unlikely, if Franklin can win two of those three, it would go a long way toward making 2014 a success. A win at the Big House, or at a White House against Ohio State can become the memorable moment of the season.
The finale against the Spartans could have Big Ten Championship implications and Penn State might have a chance to play spoiler in the battle for the Land Grant Trophy.
Keep the Recruiting Momentum Going
After being hired in early January, Franklin was able to fill the 2014 Penn State recruiting class with a unit that ranked 24th in the nation.
Since then, he has landed six recruits for the 2015 class, including four of the top 20 prospects from Pennsylvania, according to 247Sports.
The class currently ranks 14th in the country—tops in the Big Ten.
If Franklin can continue the strong recruiting push and close out with another top-25 class, it will help solidify the foundation for his future in Happy Valley.
Stay Above .500
The difference between 6-6 and 7-5 didn't seem like a great deal until Penn State pulled out a victory over Wisconsin to secure a winning record for the ninth consecutive season, and a collective sigh of relief emerged from Happy Valley.
As long as Franklin and Co. can avoid a drop-off from the O'Brien era, fans and recruits alike will be appeased and remain hopeful. Winning cures everything, and "bowl eligible" means something even when it doesn't matter.
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