For James Franklin and Penn State, is it CFP or bust? Fact vs. myth for 2024 (2024)

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Penn State will be back on the practice field later this month. The first season of the expanded College Football Playoff will soon be here.

Will Penn State be in that 12-team Playoff field? It certainly seems like a team that will be on the bubble. We know logistically it’s capable of hosting a Playoff game now that it has pushed fall graduation back a day and has done necessary maintenance to Beaver Stadium. As for the on-field product? Well, that’s why we’re here.

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If you’re new, here’s the rundown of what’s outlined below. I’ve generated a handful of topics that are among the most prevalent talking points and storylines surrounding this team. I’ve then sifted through my brain to determine whether I think each idea is indeed a fact or a myth.

Penn State must win a Playoff game for this season to be deemed a success

We know the Nittany Lions would’ve been a beneficiary of an expanded Playoff field in the past. Had this 12-team Playoff format been in play sooner they would’ve been in six times since 2016, but the biggest narrative surrounding this program — that it has wilted in the biggest games against the best opponents — would not have changed.

During James Franklin’s 10 seasons, the Nittany Lions are 88-39. Half of Franklin’s seasons here have ended with Penn State winning 10 or 11 games. This was a program coming off sanctions that rebounded quicker than expected. There’s even one Big Ten title in there in 2016. Penn State has appeared in five New Year’s Six bowl games and holds a 3-2 record in those games. These next two sentences are the problem: Franklin’s Penn State teams are 3-17 against AP top-10 opponents, including 2-8 when the Lions are in the top 10. The 4-16 record vs. Ohio State and Michigan is notable too.

This new expanded Playoff era is going to bring with it tougher conference schedules, but it’s also going to dismantle the top-heavy Big Ten East division, which will work in Penn State’s favor. Penn State won’t play both Ohio State and Michigan every year. It plays Ohio State this year and also conference newcomers USC, UCLA and Washington.

Now, a 10-2 record given the conference opponents, will be viewed more favorably. One loss won’t squash Playoff hopes. Two losses will be OK too as we’ll all look at strength of schedule and so many other factors that quite frankly Penn State fans haven’t had to worry about in a long time.

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Let’s say Penn State goes 10-2 again this season, with one of those losses to Ohio State, but still makes the Playoff. If Penn State loses in the first round, that’s a repetition of what has unfolded here the last several years. Now, if that Playoff game is close, but Penn State still loses, that result might hold up slightly better in the court of public opinion. Still, Penn State needs to show it can beat an elite opponent this season. It has that chance when Ohio State comes to town on Nov. 2. Should the Nittany Lions make the Playoff they’ll have another chance to do so.

For James Franklin and Penn State, is it CFP or bust? Fact vs. myth for 2024 (3)

Drew Allar is entering his third season at Penn State. (Brett Davis / USA Today)

One win in the Playoff this year would show that this program can cut into that next tier. Without it, I’m not convinced Penn State will make that jump any time soon. One Playoff win would make this season a success. And, for the sake of argument, if Penn State got a first-round bye but then lost, yes, that’s still a successful season. To get that bye it means it would’ve needed to beat a marquee opponent.

Winning a Playoff game isn’t a crazy idea. On paper, this is still one of the most talented — and the argument can be made for the most talented — rosters of the Franklin era. This is the year many circled. Nick Singleton, Abdul Carter, Kaytron Allen, Dani Dennis-Sutton and Drew Allar are all now in their third year.

If Penn State doesn’t cut through this year, it won’t get any easier in the years to come. Washington and USC eventually should be revamped and reloaded. Wisconsin under Luke Fickell has the chance to do the same. Ohio State and Michigan are already a tier ahead while Oregon is looking to join them.

Yes, Penn State needs to win a Playoff game this season for it to be deemed a success. Still, I do not believe Franklin’s job would be in jeopardy if it didn’t. There are 56 million reasons to consider why that likely wouldn’t happen. This is a good program. Franklin has undoubtedly helped move it forward. Now, it just needs to take that next step.

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Verdict: Fact

Allar will be one of the two best quarterbacks in the Big Ten

One of the questions I’ve heard a lot and one many folks are probably still grappling with is this: Is Allar a good quarterback? I’ve been asked about it in conversations with fans this winter, spring and summer. I understand the question and to steal a line from former Penn State coach Bill O’Brien, I respect you, and I respect the question. The fact many are still asking this after a year as the starter is a good gauge of how bizarre last season was.

The truth is the verdict is still out on just how good Allar will be long-term, but I do still view him currently as the second-best quarterback in the conference behind Oregon’s Dillon Gabriel. Offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki’s track record is about doing more with less. He has had way less talented rosters and fewer resources. His creativity and ability to work to his players’ strengths have helped him succeed thus far. I do believe he will put Allar in much better situations than what we saw unfold last season. Yes, Penn State’s receiving corps is far from ideal. But, I’d trust Kotelnicki to get tight end Tyler Warren involved and to bank on both running backs helping in that area too. This offense has to be more explosive.

GO DEEPERPenn State football assistant coaches on offensive improvements, explosive plays and more

Last season, Allar looked like a quarterback afraid to make a mistake. Penn State didn’t want to force the ball downfield. The offense was disjointed. It also didn’t have big-play threat Harrison Wallace III for most of the season. It’s on Kotelnicki to take an athlete in Allar who has the measurables that will pique the interest of NFL talent evaluators and turn him into the big-time quarterback Penn State’s coaches still believe he is. Allar has changed his body this offseason to shed some weight and become more mobile. His arm strength is still there. The five-star status was earned for a reason.

Ohio State’s Will Howard and USC’s Miller Moss could push for the conference’s No. 2 spot.

Verdict: Fact

GO DEEPERTake The Athletic's Penn State football fan survey

Carter’s position switch will shed light on a thin linebacking corps

The look on Phil Trautwein’s face said it all. Last month, the offensive line coach was asked how Carter, the former linebacker, now looks coming off the edge. Trautwein grinned.

“He’s fast. He has freakish speed. He can see stuff,” Trautwein said. “He’s an elite pass rusher.”

One of the Big Ten’s best defenders is now in a position to be even more disruptive. It’s a smart move for Carter, who initiated the switch, and for Tom Allen’s defense. Carter is a versatile chess piece who was going to find a way to impact the game wherever they put him. Getting him closer to the ball it helped fill a need at defensive end, but there’s still enough talent in that linebacking corps that it should be fine. Linebacker Tony Rojas is becoming a leader and should be a breakout player to watch this season. Middle linebacker Kobe King knows the ropes after starting last season. With Dom DeLuca, Ta’Mere Robinson and Kaveion Keys, among others, there’s still a lot to work with.

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I’m thinking of this season for Carter similarly to what Micah Parsons’ third season was supposed to be. Penn State never got to see Parsons in that role, and Carter, who is now even bigger, listed at 6 feet 3 and 259 pounds, certainly looks like he’s going to thrive in this new role. NFL talent evaluators will be keeping a close eye on him this season and the Carter, Dani Dennis-Sutton tandem should be one of the most productive in the country. This duo coming right after Chop Robinson and Adisa Isaac speaks to how much talent is being developed here.

Verdict: Myth

The White Out should only be used for night games

Penn State has a decision to make: Pencil in the White Out for a likely night game against Illinois or pick another, more important game with an unknown start time and make that the White Out. It hasn’t asked, but I’m willing to make the call. It’s abundantly clear what the biggest home game is this season (Ohio State, Nov. 2). Even if that game gets the Fox Big Noon treatment, Penn State should still lean into all the craziness and fan enthusiasm that comes with a White Out and make that the White Out game.

I know this idea won’t sit well with many of you. The White Out is superb at night with the pre-game hype video, the fireworks and the white pom-poms popping against the night sky. It’s special. Will you have that same level of enthusiasm when it’s Illinois jogging out of the tunnel? UCLA? Washington? The newness of UCLA and Washington makes those more palatable choices than Illinois, but Washington comes to town the week after the Ohio State game. That Ohio State game is the key point in the regular season.

Yes, Penn State fans will be wound up regardless because it’s Ohio State, but I wouldn’t shy away from not making it a White Out just because it probably won’t be a night game. Lean in and create that home field advantage for the biggest and toughest home game of the year.

Now, there’s the marketing piece to this too. So many people want to be at the White Out, regardless of the opponent to experience it. It’s a college football bucket list item for many. The stadium will be packed for Ohio State regardless of theme or start time. I imagine Penn State would still have a great crowd of 100,000-plus for Illinois, but that number most likely maxes out and the town is at capacity too if it’s the White Out and if it’s at night. Many other Penn State teams also use the White Out game for recruiting purposes. A noon kick doesn’t make it easier for them to get here. Still, there are strong enough secondary themes like the Stripe Out that could be used for a night game.

Go all out. Make the call. Penn State, Ohio State should be the White Out.

Verdict: Myth

(Top photo: Scott Taetsch / Getty Images)

For James Franklin and Penn State, is it CFP or bust? Fact vs. myth for 2024 (6)For James Franklin and Penn State, is it CFP or bust? Fact vs. myth for 2024 (7)

Audrey Snyder has covered Penn State since 2012 for various outlets, including The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Patriot-News and DKPittsburghSports. Snyder is an active member of the Association for Women in Sports Media (AWSM) and is the professional adviser for Penn State’s student chapter. Follow Audrey on Twitter @audsnyder4

For James Franklin and Penn State, is it CFP or bust? Fact vs. myth for 2024 (2024)
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