Big Ten reporters Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett will occasionally give their takes on a burning question facing the league. We'll both have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide who is right.
James Franklin took over as Penn State's third head coach in the last 48 years on Saturday. So today's Take Two topic is: How long until Franklin has the Nittany Lions in serious contention for a Big Ten championship?
Take 1: Brian Bennett
No discussion of Penn State's championship aims can begin without first discussing the sanctions. The school had some of its scholarships restored last year but still won't be playing with a full roster next season, and the gaps initially created by the penalties will really start to show up in the next couple of seasons. So Franklin, like Bill O'Brien before him, will essentially be playing with one hand tied behind his back.
What O'Brien was able to do in luring recruits like Christian Hackenberg and Adam Breneman despite the sanctions was truly remarkable. If Penn State can recruit like that with far more uncertainty than it has right now about its future, then Franklin -- an ace recruiter with strong connections on the East Coast -- could very well clean up. It remains to be seen whether he and his staff will "dominate the state" and "dominate the region" as promised, but they should stock the cupboard full of talent in short order.
It still takes time for that talent to arrive and for it to develop, however. Penn State will also be competing in a much tougher division now that Michigan State and Michigan will join Ohio State in the new East Division. Franklin did amazing work at Vanderbilt, but the Commodores never really threatened to win the SEC East title and feasted on the mediocre to bad teams in the league. That's understandable, given Vandy's resources, but Franklin still has to prove he's a championship coach. Given his early limitations, I think it will take a while. By the time Hackenberg is a senior -- assuming he stays four years -- Penn State will be removed from the bowl ban and recovering from the scholarship reductions. So 2016 is my pick for when Franklin's Nittany Lions will make a serious title push.
Take 2: Adam Rittenberg
The sanctions certainly are a factor, but I don't know if I buy into their delayed effect as much as others, especially when counteracted by Franklin's superior recruiting ability. There's also the possibility, perhaps likelihood, that the bowl ban is reduced either before the 2014 season or before the 2015 campaign. We'll see if the NCAA budges, but it wouldn't surprise me to see Penn State eligible for postseason play in the 2015 season.
I'm going with 2015 as the season when we see Penn State make a serious push in the East Division. Franklin will have more of his recruits in place, Hackenberg will be entering his third season and some of the depth issues, especially on defense, could be fixed. Penn State will undoubtedly need a few more impact freshmen like Hackenberg was in 2013, but I could see it happening under Franklin.
The division isn't getting any easier. Ohio State and Michigan continue to recruit at a very high level, and Michigan State's recruiting should improve after the Rose Bowl run. If Michigan gets its act together in 2014, it could be tough for Penn State to rise up. But I don't think the Nittany Lions are too far away, especially with Hackenberg at quarterback for two more years. The key is developing depth on a defense that wasn't very good this past season. But if we've learned anything from Auburn, it's that teams can improve rapidly, especially with the right coach and the right recruiting approach. Penn State seems to have that in Franklin.