Penn State will open the season ranked sixth in the nation. It is the Nittany Lions’ first preseason ranking since 2010 and their highest since 1999, when they entered the season ranked third.
James Franklin’s response? Neat.
Come on, coach! Don’t preseason rankings matter?
“No,” the Penn State head coach said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “Everybody’s excited, but look at our preseason poll last year. Obviously it didn’t mean anything.”
Penn State entered the year unranked but finished 11-3, won the Big Ten, and reached the Rose Bowl.
“I know it’s great for the fans, I know it’s great for the media and gives people something to talk about,” Franklin said of the lofty ranking. “But at the end of the day, all that matters is how you play each week and how you prepare and how you execute. We focus on the things we can control. That’s not one of them. I think that’s one of the things that I think we’ve done a pretty good job of.”
Still, Franklin knows what such a ranking represents: Expectations. Respect.
“It’s not like we’ve stuck our heads in the sand and we’re not aware of what’s going on out there,” Franklin said. “Our guys have earned this. They’ve earned the fact that people are talking about them and saying good things. That’s wonderful. But that was last year. We need to focus on what we’re going to do this year and how we’re going to build it and not take one thing for granted and have an attention to detail. The one thing you do take with you is the confidence from the experience that we had last year. So that’s good. We just can’t be overconfident.”
Penn State started 2-2 last season but won its next nine games. The Nittany Lions stunned Ohio State in Happy Valley, 24-21, and overcame a 21-point deficit in the Big Ten Championship to stun Wisconsin 38-31.
In the Rose Bowl, however, Penn State ran out of magic against USC. The Nittany Lions erupted for 49 points in the second and third quarters but didn’t score in the first quarter – or, more importantly, the fourth. They lost, 52-49.
Throughout the offseason, Franklin kept hearing about how it was the greatest Rose Bowl ever.
“I said, ‘It wasn’t that darn good. It could have been better,’” he said, laughing. “But I do think the way that game ended showed the country that Penn State is now back, part of the national conversation, and we can play with anybody. I think our players tasted enough of that success that they want more of it, but the season ended on a negative note. They want to make sure that the season ends differently.
“Let’s be honest,” Franklin continued. “In college football, there’s only one team at the end of the season that’s happy and that’s the national-championship team. For us, we’ve had a great offseason, and I do think the Big Ten Championship and our success last year and then having the opportunity to play in the Rose Bowl was great, but I think our guys want more.”
Penn State opens the season with home games against Akron (Sept. 2), Pitt (Sept 9), and Georgia State (Sept. 16). Kickoff against Akron is slated for 12 p.m. ET.