Finishing at No. 17 in the AP top 25 poll and ranked No. 12 in the final CFP rankings, Penn State enters the fall coming off a 9-4 season where the Nittany Lions were 3-0 in non-conference play. Penn State head coach James Franklin spoke at Big Ten media days on Friday. Here’s everything he said.
You can see the full transcript from James Franklin here.
JAMES FRANKLIN: Appreciate everybody coming out to support Big Ten football. Just briefly, I would like to start by thanking Commissioner Delany for what he’s been able to do for our conference, what he’s been able to do for college athletics and what he’s been able to do specifically for Big Ten football for 30 years. Obviously he’s had a tremendous impact, and also want to welcome Commissioner Warren. We look forward to working with him in our future.
Briefly I want to talk about the foundation that we’ve laid, that we’re very proud of. 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. 14 straight winning seasons, one of five programs in the country that have been able to do that, one of six programs to win nine or more regular-season games in the last three years. That’s us, Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Washington. One of six programs to finish in the top 15 in the College Football Playoff poll in the last three years, again, us, Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Washington.
Second nationally in FBS attendance. I want to thank our fans for that. You look at college football right now, and you look at game attendance in general, that’s a challenge. In 2013 the year before we got the job, we were averaging 96,000 per game, and then last year we averaged 105,485. So I want to thank our fans for that.
Obviously back-to-back New Year’s Six bowl games in 2016 and ’17, and then tied for ninth in FBS winning percentage over the last three years. So really have been able to do some fantastic things, and I want to thank our staff. I think we’ve got the best staff in college football. So appreciative of those men. I want to thank our players that have been unbelievable in terms of handling adversity in terms of growing as a community, in terms of working really, really hard as a football program.
So a lot of good things going on. We’ve obviously got to use that foundation to continue to grow and take that next step as an organization and as a program.
We probably have more question marks this year than we’ve had over the last couple years. 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.
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But we are young, we are talented. Probably the fastest football team that I’ve been a part of in probably my nine years as a head football coach, so we’re excited about having that speed and athleticism on the field.
Some positions last year that I felt like we were young and inexperienced, obviously we were able to grow. You look at us on special teams, we started two freshman kickers. We’ll obviously be able to grow there. Feel like we have a chance to be really strong on special teams with Blake Gillikin as our punter, and then obviously with Jake Pinegar as our field-goal kicker, and then we’re returning Rafael Checa as our kickoff specialist.
So feel good about those positions, and then we brought some guys in to compete there.
And then on offense, obviously wide receiver, we expect to take a step this year at the wide receiver position, gained a lot of experience last year at the tight end position. We feel like that has a chance to be a strength for us with Freiermuth and Bowers. You look at us at the running back position over the last number of years we’ve been able to produce at a high level at that position. We want to continue to do that.
Obviously question marks at the quarterback position with a competition between Clifford and Levis, and then our offensive line with three returning starters.
Excited about those positions.
On defense, at defensive end, I think we have a chance to be as good as anywhere in the country at defensive end. Went into spring ball with question marks at D-tackle. I think we’re probably a little bit further ahead there than we thought we were. Same thing at the safety position. And then we feel like we’ve got a chance to be really talented at linebacker and corner.
Excited about the season. Obviously Media Days for us as coaches kind of ends summer break, and we’re ready to roll, and looking forward to getting back on campus and work with our guys. Appreciate the opportunity to be here, and open it up to questions.
Q. Coach, what’s your comfort level with the quarterback position? That’s big shoes to fill there.
JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, obviously whenever you lose a quarterback that played as many games and started as many games as Trace McSorley did for us and was able to win at such a high level, obviously there’s question marks going into the season. But we’ve been fortunate to be able to recruit extremely well. Very confident in the way we developed that position, as well, and we think we’re going to have great competition.
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, as well, and 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.
Sean was able to gain some experience last year and do some pretty good things for us, and I know he is excited and champing at the bit as well as Levis is, too. Big shoes to fill, but we’ve got tremendous confidence in those guys and what they’re going to be able to do for our program.
Football is right around the corner & @Mitchgerber8 caught up with @coachjfranklin in Chicago to chat about the upcoming season, recruiting & more. Listen in! ⤵️#B1GMediaDay#WeAre pic.twitter.com/xKmAIhMMwV
— Penn State Football (@PennStateFball) July 19, 2019
Q. Big Ten has been left out of the playoffs for the last two years. What’s wrong?
JAMES FRANKLIN: Very direct. (Laughter.)
Yeah, I think obviously from our conference, I think I’ve got a pretty good perspective. I’ve been a head coach in the SEC. I’ve been a head coach in the Big Ten. And I love our conference. I think we do it the right way, both on and off the field. We compete at a very high level. But I think obviously when you’re left out of the playoffs for two years in a row, I think there needs to be discussions, and there’s discussions that are going on, and I think we’ve got to look at it all.
We look at how the divisions are, how the divisions are broken up right now. 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’s ebb and flow, but if you look at the East it’s pretty strong. Probably similar in a lot of ways with the SEC West is like. 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.
Obviously I think the nine conference games is something that needs to be discussed. When you play nine conference games, you’re going to have more losses within your conference, just obviously mathematics tell you that. Obviously we’ve made some changes now in some of the philosophies that go around 1-AA games, FCS opponents and things like that. So I just think all these things need to be discussed after the last two years and what’s happened because I think obviously a lot of people in this room as well as the people in our conference feel like we have an opportunity to compete with anyone, anywhere at any time. We want the opportunity to do that.
The hard part I think with that is the set of criteria that you’ve been told are going to impact being able to make the playoffs, strength in schedule and things like that. There’s a lot of variables there. There’s a lot of things you can’t control. And also the people that are in that room are different every single year. So I think what we’ve got to do is control the things that we can control and the things that we know are constants, and those are the discussions that we’re going to have to have as a conference.
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But right now, I’m more worried about Penn State and what we need to do to be successful. But I think it’s a fair question, and I think it’s a fair discussion that needs to happen.
Q. You brought up the SEC in your time at Vanderbilt. What do you think is one of the biggest differences coaching in the Big Ten versus the SEC?
JAMES FRANKLIN: Well, I’m not in the comparison business, but I do think that experience obviously in two of the more, if not the most respected conferences in college football, I think helps, understanding what that league is all about and how they’ve had the success, and being able to sit in those meetings with the AD’s and head coaches in the SEC and able to do the same thing in the Big Ten, it’s obviously, I think, a unique perspective. At one point me and Urban had a similar perspective, so I think there’s value in that, different styles from an athletic director’s perspective, different styles from a head coach’s perspective, different styles from a Commissioner’s perspective.
But for me, it’s a tremendous opportunity. It’s great information.
But I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it. I used to always when I first became a head coach in the SEC, I used to kind of find a way to sit between Les Miles and Spurrier because they would entertain me the entire meeting, and then obviously now being in the Big Ten, I think there’s a lot of value. I’m not going to get into the comparison business, but obviously two unbelievably respected conferences that do it right, that do it on the biggest stage, and I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to be a part of both.
Q. After the Ohio State game last year, you said you were a great program but not an elite program. Where are you now? What steps do you have to take to get to that level?
JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think a little bit of that comment was misinterpreted a little bit because I do think we’re at a point as a program, you look at the stats that I was able to list off over the last three years, we’re at a point as a program where I think a lot — 90 percent of programs across college football would like to be where we’re at, but we need to take the next step. There’s no doubt about it. So for us, it’s everything. It’s coaching, it’s scheme, it’s player development, it is recruiting, it’s facilities, it’s every aspect of our program.
And I think that comment and that discussion has created really good dialogue in the off-season: What do we need to do from Penn State’s perspective to take that next step? What do I need to do? It’s all of us. And I think we keep chipping away at it.
You look at us the last three years, we’ve been as competitive with Ohio State as anybody in the conference. We were able to win one year and lost by one point two years in a row, which is heartbreaking. From your perspective, probably great football games. From a Penn State’s perspective, it breaks your heart. So we’ve got to find a way to be able to take that next step and be able to do it consistently.
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. 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.