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Penn State football ready to take the next step

July 24, 2018

CHICAGO -- The next time Penn State coach James Franklin suffers a crisis in confidence will be the first time. Franklin’s faith in the Nittany Lions’ ability to regain a foothold among the elite of the Football Bowl Subdivision has never wavered, and may have even grown amid a pair of seven-win seasons to begin his tenure.

Penn State has since found its groove. There’s a Big Ten Conference title on Franklin’s resume. Last year’s team reached a New Year’s Six bowl. Each of his past two teams have finished in the top 10 of the final Amway Coaches Poll.

A question remains: Can Penn State take the next step?

“The reality is for you to have a program that is a consistent top 10 or top five program, you can’t do it by just being good in one area,” Franklin said. “You can’t just do it being good in a scheme. You can’t just do it good from a development standpoint. You can’t just do it from a recruiting perspective.

“For you to have a top five, top 10 program, you’re going to have to be strong in all of those areas. I think if you have weaknesses, that’s what you need to be spending your offseason doing, is attacking those weaknesses.”

There’s the implication that Penn State isn’t at that point, not yet, at least.

“I think we’re doing some pretty good things in each area and that’s what it’s going to take,” Franklin said.

But the Franklin-coached Nittany Lions have followed a familiar script. The most recent national party-crasher, Clemson, went from average to an Atlantic Coast Conference contender before finally exploding into one of the dominant programs in college football. The logical next step for Penn State is to leap from annual New Year’s Six bowl contenders to a program capable of playing for and winning a national championship.

This year’s team has that ability, even as questions abound over how well -- if at all -- Penn State can replace two key figures from the past two seasons: offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead, now the head coach at Mississippi State, and running back Saquon Barkley, a top pick in the recent NFL draft.

The attention turns to senior quarterback Trace McSorley, the face of this specific team. But a brighter spotlight now shines on Franklin, and on how capably he’s built a program not just built to last but constructed to take the next step into the College Football Playoff.

“I think we’re doing some pretty good things in each area and that’s what it’s going to take,” Franklin said. “We’ve just got to keep refining those things.”

McSorley was the only unanimous selection on the Big Ten preseason honors list Monday. The 10-member preseason list was selected by a media panel.

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