News And Notes From James Franklin’s Big Ten Media Day Press Conference
James Franklin joined the rest of the Big Ten’s coaches at the conferences’ 2019 media days in Chicago Friday morning. He opened up his portion of the press conferences on a positive note by looking back at the Nittany Lions’ success over the past few seasons.
“If you look at our success over the last three years at Penn State, we’ve been able to do some really good things in laying a foundation to build on,” Franklin said. “14 straight winning seasons, one of five programs in the country that has been able to do that, one of six programs to win nine or more regular-season games in the last three years.”
The head coach went on to discuss how Penn State ranks as one of the best programs in the country alongside Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Oklahoma, and Washington.
Despite the success, Franklin noted how the Nittany Lions have plenty of question marks heading into the 2019 season. With three-year starting quarterback Trace McSorley graduated and headed to the NFL, Franklin faces the task of choosing who will step up in No. 9’s absence.
“Obviously when you lose a quarterback who’s played as much football as Trace McSorley has played for us, that’s going to lead you off with some question marks going into the season,” Franklin said.
While there are certainly questions at the position, the head coach was quick to defend the two players who will battle for the starting role, as well as freshmen signal callers Michael Johnson Jr. and Ta’Quan Roberson.
“We’ve got two, what we would consider, veterans in Sean Clifford and Mr. Levis, that are going to have a great competition this camp, and have really had that all summer, including spring ball, and then we’ve got two freshmen that are also going to have an opportunity to compete,” Franklin said.
He was hard-pressed to speak on which quarterback he was favoring to start, telling the media, “we’ll make the decision when the decision has been made when it’s obvious to everybody who our starting quarterback is going to be.” The head coach stuck to the narrative that the quarterback competition remains to be wide open.
Outside of the quarterback room, Penn State has plenty of experience at several key positions. Special teams was one position group that Franklin was quick to emphasize, discussing how kickers Rafael Checha, Jake Pinegar, and punter Blake Gillikin are all returning starters.
He went on to mention players on the offensive side of the ball, such as wide receiver KJ Hamler and tight ends Pat Freiermuth and Nick Bowers, who bring plenty of talent and experience to an already strong group.
Penn State’s defense seemed to be one of the program’s stronger units over the past few months and it certainly still looks that way. Franklin started by discussing defensive end, stating that the Nittany Lions have a chance to be “as good as anywhere in the country” at that position. With Yetur Gross-Matos racking up the preseason awards over the past few days, it’s hard to argue with that statement.
After discussing his own team, the conversation was directed to why the Big Ten hasn’t sent a team to the college football playoff for the last two years.
Franklin acknowledged that he has had time coaching in the SEC and the Big Ten, and discussed what his former conference may be doing right that his current one isn’t. The Penn State head coach was quick to state that he thinks the Big Ten is doing plenty of things the right way but admitted that there is room for growth. He went on to say what many Big Ten fans have been saying for years.
“We look at how the divisions are… I think the East is very strong and has been very strong for a number of years, and I think obviously you can have the argument over history, there are ebb and flow, but if you look at the East it’s pretty strong,” Franklin said. “So I think we’ve got to at least have a discussion. Not necessarily saying we need to make any changes, but we need to have a discussion.”
He went on to mention how nine conference games in the Big Ten can be a killer to a team’s record in terms of national ranking, as in conference competition continues to beat up on each other.
The head coach finished his press conference by discussing one of his most notable moment’s from the 2018 season: the “we’re not an elite football team yet” post-game press conference after a heartbreaking loss to Ohio State.
Franklin was given a chance to clarify a few of those comments today, telling the media that he is certainly proud of where his team is but understands that they need to take the next step in order to win more football games.
He finished by discussing some of the little things that every member of the football program needs to be doing in order to win.
“But we’re at a point as a program, it’s not one glaring area. It’s fighting for every small fraction that we possibly could find, and that’s in every area,” Franklin said. “That’s nutrition, that’s sports science, that’s scheme, that’s all of it, every single aspect we’ve got to be fighting and competing in every area to make sure that we’re putting ourselves in the best position to be successful week in and week out against the best teams in college football.”
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Penn State ranked just outside the top 100 in this year’s Forbes’ list of the top colleges in the United States.
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