The 5 losses toughest losses of the James Franklin era

Penn State's head coach James Franklin has had a relative success time as head coach of the Nittany Lions. He has come under scrutiny however by losing big games. But which losses were most critical to him and the program?
West Virginia v Penn State
West Virginia v Penn State / Scott Taetsch/GettyImages

To say James Franklin's time as head coach at Penn State has been full of ups and downs would be an understatement. There's no denying the success he has had, bringing the program to national relevancy once more and injecting new life into it after everything it has been through. Franklin has captured a Big Ten championship, three New Year's Six bowls, and five seasons with at least 10 or more wins. Not a bad resume.

It is also no secret that Franklin has received criticism for coming up short and failing to win big games, especially against Big Ten rivals Ohio State and Michigan. The following five games are Franklin's biggest and most critical losses since he has been head coach.

5. Ohio State 2014 (2OT)

24. 491. Ohio State. 31. 490. Final/

It might be a bit of a surprise that a loss from James Franklin's first season would be among his biggest. Ohio State came into this game and was seemingly in control to win it. The momentum changed when Penn State recorded a pick-six and shut out the Buckeyes in the 2nd half to force overtime.

Penn State initially took the lead in the 1st overtime, but Ohio State responded and then scored again to begin the 2nd overtime. Unfortunately, Penn State could not respond with a score of their own.

Had James Franklin been able to complete the comeback, Ohio State likely wouldn't have made the College Football Playoff and would not have won the national championship that year. More importantly for the program itself, Franklin could have turned the program around sooner by potentially getting more recruits to take a closer look and commit to Penn State and James Franklin.

4. 2017 Rose Bowl USC

Final. 49. 491. 4. 2017 Rose Bowl USC. 52. 519

It may be hard to argue that the 2016 season wasn't James Franklin's most successful one, producing a Big Ten title along the way. The loss to USC in the Rose Bowl stings though for several reasons.

For one, Penn State would have redeemed the program's 2009 Rose Bowl loss to USC. Penn State, like it had all season, came back from being behind and had a two-touchdown lead against the Trojans. This time, however, the Nittany Lions let that lead slip away and lost by a field goal. This loss gave credence to the argument that Penn State did not belong in that year's College Football Playoff.

3. Iowa 2021

20. 491. Iowa Penn State. 23. 483. Final

Penn State came into this top-five match-up with Iowa with plenty of momentum. Upsetting Wisconsin on the road to begin the year and beating Auburn in the Whiteout Game. Penn State jumped out to a 17-3 lead in the 2nd quarter, but an injury to Sean Clifford forced him out of the game, and the Nittany Lion offense could not get anything going the rest of the day, being outscored 20-3 in the process.

James Franklin and Penn State seemed destined to make another New Year's Six Bowl and perhaps a shot at the College Football Playoff with a 5-0 start to the season. The loss to Iowa however, sent the team into a nosedive that the team could not bounce back from, finishing the remainder of the season 2-6.

2. Ohio State 2018

490. Final. 26. 491. Ohio State 2018. 27

This game is still remembered mostly for the play calling, specifically at the end of the game, along with James Franklin's post-game press conference where he stated the program was not elite yet. Penn State controlled much of the game and twice held a double-digit lead against the Buckeyes. Regarding the play call, some fans will always question it, with many others wondering if this is as far as Franklin can take the program, or if he ever will lead it to the College Football Playoff.

1. Pitt 2016

42. 866. Final. 39. 491. Pitt

At first glance, this loss is hard simply because it is Pitt. When you get into analyzing the impact this loss had on that season, it is what likely kept the Nittany Lions out of the College Football Playoff in 2016. Penn State found itself down 28-7 at one point during the game but kept fighting and clawing its way back. Down three, with a chance to go ahead, Penn State was driving down the field when quarterback Trace McSorley was picked off in the end zone. Ending Penn State's comeback attempt, and later costing them a spot in the playoff.

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