Penn State coach James Franklin is officially on the hot seat

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The third year is when college football coaches are supposed to lead breakthroughs.

You have a few recruiting classes under your belt and the system is fully ingrained — it’s your program.

Things are different at Penn State, who is coming out of significant NCAA sanctions, but those third-year expectations still existed in Happy Valley.

James Franklin’s first two seasons were good, but not great — 7-6 records both seasons — but this was the year they were going to show they were back on the path to big bowl games and conference title games.

Saturday provided the perfect scenario to show that Franklin's team was on the rise: a rivalry game against Pitt, with just shy of 70,000 on hand (a Pittsburgh sports record) in an evenly-matched game.

Penn State then spotted the Panthers a 21-point first-half lead they were never able to totally overcome in a 42-39 loss.

Saturday was Franklin’s most important game as a head coach, and his team wasn’t ready to play. Then, when the Lions pushed back and had a chance to win, they couldn’t come through in the clutch. It’s the most agonizing way to lose a contest — particularly one with that much emotional significance.

It's early in the season, but consider Franklin’s seat hot.

In Franklin’s three years at Penn State, his wins have come against UCF, Akron, UMass, Rutgers (twice), Indiana (twice), Illinois, Buffalo, San Diego State, Kent State, Boston College, Army, and Temple.

Unless you’re feeling really generous with in-state Temple, there isn’t single notable win on that ledger. The closest thing Franklin has to a marquee win is a double-overtime home loss to Ohio State in 2014.

Saturday provided an opportunity to put something resembling a regime-defining victory on the resume. Instead, Penn State was playing catch up to a nearly one-dimensional offense that amassed 79 of its yards on the ground.

Saturday was a game that Franklin had to have: He needs to get that marquee victory on the books this season — Penn State is yet to beat a ranked team under Franklin — and the rest of the slate is tough.

Penn State has Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa (off a Hawkeye bye) and Michigan State remaining on the schedule — and those games carry far more weight than the would have if Penn State won against an evenly-matched team Saturday.

The good news is that only Michigan is on the road.

The bad news is that, much like Saturday, Franklin is now playing from behind.