Penn State coach James Franklin spoke to the media Friday in Indianapolis, just over 24 hours before his Nittany Lions are set to play Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Franklin addressed running back Saquon Barkley’s health, Saturday’s implications on the College Football Playoff and the former players who will be in attendance at Lucas Oil Stadium.
On whether debate over the CFP rankings has overshadowed the Big Ten title game:
Not for us. I think our fans and players and coaches are aware of it. But for us not really. We’re really excited about being here. We’re really excited about having the opportunity to play for a Big Ten championship.
After that, whatever happens, we will be very appreciative and blessed for whatever opportunity we get. But our focus is on playing well on Saturday night and preparing crazy for the next 24 hours, go out and play well, and let’s see what happens.
On where a Big Ten title would rank as an accomplishment:
Pretty important, yeah. Pretty important to be able to play Big Ten championships, those types of things. How long it was going to take us to get to one of these games, I did not have a number on it. Obviously we walked into an interesting situation, probably one of the more interesting situations in college football history.
On Barkley’s role on this team:
I’m really proud of him, as good as he’s doing on the football field, he’s doing just as well in the classroom. He’s probably doing better in the community. He’s been great when it comes to community service, how he’s handled all this success that’s happened so quickly for him. He’s handled it better probably than any young player I’ve ever been around. I think that’s one of the reasons we’ve probably had the success we’ve had, is I think it says a lot about your team when your best players are great guys, are great teammates.
I was fortunate in this state — excuse me, against this opponent, in my past, I coached with the Green Bay Packers. I was the wide receivers coach. Donald Driver set the tone for my whole room. It was awesome. I talked to Donald this week. I think Saquon does that a little bit for our team. He kind of sets the tone for the whole organization. The type of teammate he is, how selfless he is, all those things are great.
On the team’s résumé.
Yeah, I’m not sure about résumés, what résumés have to do with the Big Ten Championship Game. That’s our complete focus right now, is Wisconsin, playing well on Saturday against Wisconsin.
On how he would feel about being left out of the playoff:
The only thing that exists for us is Wisconsin and the Big Ten Championship Game. If we take care of our business and play the way we’re capable of playing, we’ll be happy with the result.
After the game, whatever people tell us that we’ll have an opportunity to do after that, we’ll be excited about it, we’ll be appreciative for that opportunity.
Again, I’m not going to sit here and make a case for us. Our focus is going to be on Wisconsin and this tremendous opportunity, this tremendous opponent that we have in Wisconsin.
On the importance of building relationships:
The relationship aspect is important to me throughout my whole coaching career. Having guys like Donald Driver from the Packers, actually I think we have seven former Vanderbilt players that are flying in for the game, coming to the game. Tim Corbin, the baseball coach of Vanderbilt, is coming, Danny O’Brien from Maryland was at my house last night, driving back from winning a Grey Cup in Canada on the way back to North Carolina.
All those relationships are really, really important to me. That’s what I’m hoping to build here at Penn State for the long haul is have guys that come back and want to be part of our success. To me that’s what makes college football so special.
On Barkley’s health:
He’s been drinking a lot of milk all week and orange juice and vitamin C. We flew in Mr. Miyagi, hit him on the ankle with the hands.
Honestly, I know a lot of times coaches get up and say that and it’s a smoke screen. But he’s practiced all week long. He looks great.