Is the next Kirby Smart out there to replace James Franklin?

STATE COLLEGE, PA - NOVEMBER 11: Penn State head coach James Franklin of the Penn State Nittany Lions reacts to a play against the Michigan Wolverines during the first half at Beaver Stadium on November 11, 2023 in State College, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
STATE COLLEGE, PA - NOVEMBER 11: Penn State head coach James Franklin of the Penn State Nittany Lions reacts to a play against the Michigan Wolverines during the first half at Beaver Stadium on November 11, 2023 in State College, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images) /
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James Franklin’s past performance coming into Saturday’s top 10 matchup against the No. 3 Michigan Wolverines didn’t inspire much confidence in Penn State fans. Franklin is nearing the end of his 10th season in Happy Valley with just one Big Ten title and only three wins against top 10 teams.

The loss to Ohio State three weeks ago dropped Franklin to 1-9 against the Buckeyes, and after Penn State’s 24-15 loss to Michigan in Week 11 Franklin is 3-7 against the Wolverines. The Big Ten East runs through Michigan and Ohio State and Penn State has only broken through once under its current head coach.

It could be time for a change, even with the expanded 12-team College Football Playoff looming as the light at the end of the tunnel next season. The current benchmark in college football is Georgia, the back-to-back national champions. Before Kirby Smart was running roughshod over the SEC, the Bulldogs went through the same thing with Mark Richt.

Richt’s 15-year tenure peaked early with a 13-1 season in 2002, his second season at the helm. Richt coached the Bulldogs to nine double-digit win seasons and two SEC titles, but the program plateaued and Georgia decided that good, wasn’t good enough.

Penn State has reached that point with James Franklin. He just can’t get the team over the hump, but does the next Kirby Smart even exist?

The flipside to that coin is Nebraska. The Cornhuskers were a perennial powerhouse under Tom Osborne and kept the program rolling into the 2000s with Frank Solich. After Bill Callahan’s four-year tenure, Bo Pelini took over in 2008. In seven seasons, Pelini never won fewer than nine games, but that wasn’t good enough for Nebraska.

Since Pelini left, the Cornhuskers are 43-61 and have only made two bowl games. The Cornhuskers are still playing to secure bowl eligibility in 2023 under new head coach Matt Rhule.

If Penn State does take the chance and swing for the fences as Georgia did, then these are the coaches that could be the potential next Kirby Smart.