Over his decade-long run at Penn State, there have been plenty of reasons to complain about James Franklin. Yes, he helped stabilize a program that was on the verge of capsizing, but the frustration has built up with failure after failure in big games.
Now, Franklin’s job will be even tougher as Penn State falls from the third-best program in the Big Ten to fourth or fifth with the addition of Oregon and Washington. Something had to change because another 10-win season wasn’t good enough, and with UCLA, USC, Ohio State, and Washington all on Penn State’s schedule in 2024, 10 wins, which has felt like a birthright lately, is no longer guaranteed.
Well, believe it or not, Franklin is changing, right before our eyes. This offseason, after an embarrassing performance at the Peach Bowl, Franklin got aggressive in the transfer portal, something he has not embraced with the new era of college football.
The 2024 freshmen recruiting class didn't suffer, the Nittany Lions signed all 25 players in the class which ranks top 15 in the country. Apparently, there was still something left over in the NIL war chest because the Nittany Lions head coach went big game hunting in the transfer portal.
The most glaring weakness for Penn State in the Peach Bowl was cornerback, with Kalen King and Johnny Dixon headed to the NFL. So, on Wednesday, Franklin got two corners from the SEC. A.J. Harris, a former five-star who spent one season at Georgia and has three remaining years of eligibility, and Jalen Kimber, who played 533 snaps for Florida, flipped his commitment from Louisville to Penn State.
December 30, in Atlanta, was a particularly bad day for rising junior cornerback Cam Miller, but Wednesday might have been even worse. In 2023, Miller was fourth on the depth chart at cornerback, behind King, Dixon, and Daequan Hardy, who is also headed for the league but did play in the Peach Bowl.
So, with King and Dixon out, Miller was elevated to CB2 against Ole Miss and played a season-high 78 snaps. Throughout the year, Miller played well in 248 previous snaps, only giving up 11 catches for 89 yards on 21 targets. He was earmarked to take over as CB1 in 2024, but Franklin and newly appointed defensive coordinator Tom Allen must have changed their minds after watching Jaxson Dart, Lane Kiffin, and the Rebels wide receivers pick on Miller all day.
Miller was targeted 12 times and gave up seven catches for 120 yards. Instead of standing pat and trusting his in-house talent to develop, Franklin got proactive and added two SEC-caliber cornerbacks to prepare for the high-powered passing attacks coming into the conference from the PAC-12.
He is up to six additions in the portal this offseason, one less than last offseason, but with three former five-star high school players and all but one (kicker Chase Meyer) coming from Power Five programs, the quality of player Franklin is targeting is much more on par with his main competition in the conference.
In Kimber’s 533 snaps for the Gators, he allowed just 20 catches on 35 targets with five pass breakups but did surrender 381 yards and three touchdowns. He’s a true outside corner, aligning there for 431 of his snaps and only finishing with 21 tackles.
He’s immediately the most experienced cornerback on the roster, and by far the most proven. Harris will likely slot in at CB2 on the outside, while Miller will mix in on the outside like he did in 2023.
Some fans are ready to move on from Franklin, and they certainly have a strong case, but right now, he deserves some credit. This Penn State roster had holes, and he addressed them, not with transfers from Kent State and Old Dominion like last year, but with high-pedigree players who can help the team right away.
He may not be the right guy to take those players and beat Ohio State, he still has to prove he can do that, but after Wednesday’s SEC cornerback splurge, Franklin has more than done his job this offseason.