James Franklin has been in charge for 67 college football games as head coach at two schools, Vanderbilt and Penn State.
Saturday will offer Franklin something new: a must win.
If it sounds silly to call any one game such a thing, think about it. Can Franklin, in his third season in charge of the Nittany Lions, lose for the second straight year to Temple?
Whatever Franklin's definition of "Dominate the State," can he go 0-3 over two seasons to Temple and Pitt?
Forget the names on the other jerseys. Can Franklin lose at home to a team that lost two weeks ago at home to Army?
Except for this exact circumstance, I'd argue strongly that Franklin should not be on the hot seat in his third season, with a new offensive system that suggests promise, and just now free of NCAA scholarship restrictions.
Unless he loses to Temple. Can't lose again to Temple.
Could Penn State lose to Temple? Wouldn't expect it. Shouldn't expect it. So far, Penn State has shown more promise than Temple on both sides of the ball.
But the Owls, you should recall, didn't just beat Penn State last season - by the second half the Owls were dominating. This game Saturday at noon at Beaver Stadium could tell us as much about Temple as it does Penn State.
Why wasn't Pitt a must win? The Panthers were favored, on merit. And the game was in Pittsburgh.
The only way Penn State could salvage a season that included two in-state losses is with epic work in the Big Ten. Like going to Michigan's Big House and winning. A home win over Ohio State or Michigan State could do the trick. Winning the league would definitely do it. To this point, as Penn State fans are too aware, Franklin doesn't have any of that on his Nittany Lions resumé.
Since Joining the Big Ten in 1993, Penn State has never gone three straight years without beating Ohio State, Michigan, or Mighigan State. Competing with those schools is the bar anyone knows the Lions have to get over when he takes the job. That's why Franklin is in this position relatively early in his tenure. It might not help matters that many former Penn State players are gathering this weekend to honor the 50th anniversary of Joe Paterno's first game. They want results.
It probably also doesn't help that Temple coach Matt Rhule is a Penn State graduate who was born in State College. At the slightest provocation, plenty of Penn State fans throw his name in as a possible Penn State coach. Never mind that Rhule says all the right things about being happy where he is, that his parents have moved from State College to Philly, that he has gotten to know James Franklin and likes James Franklin and thinks he's a good football coach.
Right now, Rhule needs to prove that Army game wasn't a sign of more trouble ahead. And if Temple does keep trending up, plenty more Power 5 schools might go after Rhule. Some did last season. No coincidence that it happened in a year when he beat Penn State.
This isn't about Rhule, though. Franklin was never in this situation at Vandy, where there is no such thing as a must win unless Austin Peay is on the schedule, and wins over Georgia, Florida, and Tennessee in 2013 were heapings of gravy that still haven't been forgotten down there. (Don't want to hear about which of those schools were down. That's not supposed to ever happen.)
In Happy Valley, losing to Temple will never be acceptable, even with scholarship restrictions, since there is very little overlap between the offers received by the players at the two schools out of high school. Losing once in 74 years - it happens. Two years in a row? Fair or not, almost regardless of circumstance, practically the whole place would be walking out of Beaver Stadium talking about looking for the next guy.