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Offensive tackle Ryan Bates (52) hasn't played since the Ohio State game. He dressed last week, and his return would boost Penn State's offensive line.

Is Penn State a top 10 program? This is the kind of question you get asked on radio shows.

Understanding that these things are fluid and not fully objectively measurable, let’s parse it.

Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State - that’s the no-brainer top shelf.

Georgia (made the playoff two years ago, should’ve last year, five straight 5 recruiting classes) and Oklahoma (two straight playoff berths, four straight national top 7 finishes) are at least clinging to that shelf, if not fully ensconced.

So can we find five other programs you’d put ahead of Penn State in 2019?

LSU? Possibly, although they’re one transfer QB and one 30 year-old passing game coordinator away from wanting the coach fired.

Notre Dame? The original marquee name, with its own TV deal and a 12-0 run to the playoffs last year, but also 4-8 just three years ago. Still, maybe.

Michigan? Beat the Lions four times in the last six years, two of them blowouts. But no conference titles, the annual bloodletting against their archrival, too many big losses.

Texas? Potentially, but for now not even close. USC? Please. Oregon? Maybe getting there, but not yet.

Of course Penn State is a top 10 program, and of course that was processed and spit out by the fan base almost before it happened.

It has also been processed and spit out - not good enough - by James Franklin.

Surely you recall this:

“We’re a great program. We lost to an elite program,” Franklin said said after his team lost to Ohio State, by one point, for the second straight year, last September. “We’re that close. We’ve gotten comfortable being great. We will no longer be comfortable being great.

“We’re going to learn from this, we’re going to grow from this and we’re going to take the next step as a program because we’ve been knocking on the door long enough. … We’re done being great.”

He added to that, “If you guys thought I was a psychopath in the past, you have no idea.’’

Fourteen months later, here we are again, #2 in the country vs. #8 (last year it was #4 vs. #9), both teams better than 50-50 to make the playoff with a win.

Both teams, arguably, having overachieved to this point, although in Penn State’s case that has meant scrapping its way into the hunt. In Ohio State’s case it has meant utter and perhaps historic dominance.

Asked this week if he regretting laying himself bare to the media last year, he launched into a lengthy argument with himself, at one point landing on, “I look around the country and programs that have not been through anywhere near the adversity that we've been through, are having nowhere near the success that we're having, and it doesn't always necessarily feel like that, or the narrative is not that for whatever reason, I'm not sure why, but all the data backs it up.’’

He doesn’t feel as successful as he is. This may be the place to point out another similarity to 14 months ago: Franklin is still being mentioned in connection with the USC job.

At 47, he is still young for a football coach and well ahead of the greatness curve, a point made in a column by CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd Wednesday.

Joe Paterno won his first national title at 56, Tom Osborne at 57, Nick Saban at 58. Franklin has a Big Ten title, Rose and Fiesta Bowls, and a better career winning percentage than Frank Beamer, Mack Brown, Lou Holtz and Bill Snyder. That includes back-to-back nine-win seasons at Vanderbilt.

But can he get where he wants to be, that small, elite shelf, when one of its occupants is not only in Penn State’s conference but division, and right next door on the map?

That’s what Saturday is about.