What is the most dominant Penn State athletics program of all time? (2024)

Penn State perennially boasts one of the top athletic departments in all of college sports. From the historical accomplishments of Joe Paterno, James Franklin, and the Nittany Lionsfootball team to the Cael Sanderson-led Penn State wrestling dynasty, there’s been plenty of success to go around. But which Nittany Lions squad can claim the title of the most dominant Penn State athletics program of all time?

Ranking the five most dominant Penn State athletic programs of all time

5. Football

Penn State football is by far the most popular sport on campus and the primary revenue driver for the entire athletic department. The success of thePenn State footballprogram is why the university can sponsor so many other sports.

On the field, the Nittany Lions have two claimed National Championships in 1982 and 1986 and five unclaimed titles in 1911, 1912, 1969, 1981, and 1994.

Despite not claiming as many championship banners as other schools, Penn State football has had 13 undefeated seasons: 1887, 1894, 1909, 1911, 1911, 1912, 1920, 1921, 1947, 1968, 1969, 1973, 1986, and 1994.

Penn State football has the seventh-most wins in college football history, with 930 heading into 2024. The Nittany Lions’ .689 win percentage is the eighth-highest in history.

The Nittany Lions are considered by many tomeet the criteria of blue blood statusfor the sport. In 2023, James Franklin had Penn State a Peach Bowl win away from becoming the first program to win every New Year’s Six Bowls.

Widely discussed as a top 10 to 15 team annually, the Nittany Lions should be able to cash in on that standing in the newly expanded College Football Playoff.

4. Fencing

Fencing has quietly had one of the most dominant runs in Penn State athletics history. Since merging as a co-ed sport in 1990, the Nittany Lions have won 13 National Championships. That total includes six straight titles from 1995-2000 and several other back-to-back titles along the way.

Penn State fencing has 14 total championships, including the women’s fencing title from 1983. That is second nationally only to Columbia, which has 16 total championships. Since the merger of men’s and women’s in 1990, Penn State’s 13 titles are far and away the most in the sport, with Notre Dame (nine) and Columbia (five) finishing with the second and thirdmost in that stretch.

The Nittany Lions have certainly benefited from the merger of men’s and women’s fencing. While there are plenty of universities that sponsor fencing, not all of them can afford to sponsor both teams. That has led to a few select schools competing for national titles. Only Penn State, Notre Dame, Columbia, Ohio State, Princeton, Harvard, and St. Johns have claimed a co-ed title.

Before the split, 11 other programs had won a title. This means that the Nittany Lions are in contention to win it all every season.

3. Gymnastics

Men’s gymnastics has been one of the most consistent teams in Penn State athletics history. Theprogram’s 12 National Championshipsis tied with Oklahoma for the most in NCAA history.

The Nittany Lions have taken home a title in five different decades, winning in 1948, 1953, 1954, 1957, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1965, 1976, 2000, 2004, and 2007.

Gymnastics is like fencing in that only a few schools sponsor the sport. Many top schools reside in the Big Ten, with Illinois, Nebraska, Michigan, and Ohio State all having won multiple National Championships.

Still, Penn State has won titles since the sport was most popular. The Nittany Lions are always in contention every season, and similar to fencing, give the school a shot to add to its national title list.

2. Women’s Volleyball

Penn State volleyball can credit its dominant and impressive history to long-time head coach Russ Rose. Under Rose, the Nittany Lions established one of the most impressive dynasties, not just in Penn State athletics history, but in NCAA history. Penn State is the only team to have made all 43 NCAA Tournaments since its inception in 1981.

Penn State won seven National Championships: 1999, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2013, and 2014. The Nittany Lions are the only team in history to win four consecutive titles. No team has won more than two consecutive national championships.

The program currently sits second in the country in total National Championships, only behind Stanford with nine.

Rose finished with a dominant 1,330-229 (.853) record when he retired after the 2021 season. He is the nation’s all-time leader in wins, winning percentage, and NCAA Tournament winning percentage.

Katie Schumacher-Cawley took over the program in 2022 and has led the Nittany Lions to the Sweet 16 in her first two seasons. In 2024, Penn State looks primed to return to national title contention after landing theNo. 1 overall recruit for the cycleand pulling in multiple great players in the transfer portal.

1. Wrestling

Without question,Penn State wrestlingclaims the spot as the most dominant athletic program in the school’s history.

Cael Sanderson has put together the most successful run that Nittany Lion fans have ever seen. Penn State wrestling has won 11 of the past 13 NCAA Championships. Before Sanderson arrived in Happy Valley, the Nittany Lions had just one title in 1953.

Penn State wrestling has quickly established itself as one of the sport’s blue bloods under Sanderson. While the 12 National Championships are still far away from Oklahoma State’s 34 and Iowa’s 24, it is quite clear that the Nittany Lions are catching up quickly. Penn State is looking for the third four-peat of the Cael Sanderson era in 2025.

The Nittany Lions return three NCAA Champions for the 2024-25 season, with Carter Starocci, Levi Haines, and Greg Kerkvliet all back in the lineup. The Penn State wrestling faithful will also get to see National Runners-Up Beau Bartlett and Mitchell Mesenbrink, as well as third-place finisher Tyler Kasak. A team that broke NCAA records in 2024 looksready to rewrite the history books once again.

Cael Sanderson has his program running as efficiently as you could hope for, with the No. 1 recruiting class in 2024 and 2025 already in tow. The team can tie fencing for the most national titles in Penn State athletics history this upcoming season.

It is only a matter of time before the Nittany Lions chase down some of the other dominant programs in college wrestling, as well.

This article first appeared on Basic Blues Nation and was syndicated with permission.

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