“I look at the whole spectrum of it,’’ James Franklin said Tuesday, when asked about the Penn State-Ohio State games he’s coached in.
“I look at scores that Ohio State puts up against people. I look at some of the scores before we got here. And I look at how our games have gone.’’
There is probably, deep in that quote, understandable pride from Franklin at what he’s accomplished here. There’s also probably - even if subconsciously - a little dig at the rest of the Big Ten, and in particular the Buckeyes’ biggest, truest rival.
Except that to Ohio State, Michigan will never stop being the Red Sox to their Yankees, the hated School Up North. No one has ever called Penn State the School Back East.
Franklin did, of course, beat Ohio State four years ago, thanks largely to a fortuitous carom of a blocked field goal. The Buckeyes won by a single point in 2017 (against, probably, Franklin’s best team) and in ‘18.
Since Franklin got it going here, no one in the Big Ten has played the Buckeyes nearly as tough.
“We've found a way to beat them when very few people have,’’ he said Tuesday. “And, we've played them to the wire. Sometimes, those games to the wire, you know, they're probably the most painful on everybody, the coaching staff the players, the fans.’’
Last year, then, was less painful. The final was 28-17, and although Penn State missed a chance to make it very interesting late, it did not go to the wire. The Lions are a 12-point underdog today.
As we have probably written too often, there is a top shelf in this sport, and it doesn’t get raided or vacated much, and exactly three programs are on it, and Ohio State is one of them, and Penn State is not.
Urban Meyer was an enemy on which Nittany Nation could focus it’s loathing when he rebuilt the Ohio State monster from 2012-18. His replacement doesn’t work as well in the villain role. If you opened the door on trick-or-treat night and saw Ryan Day, you’d think, “Oh how cute, … an assistant football coach costume!”
But Day is 17-1, the only loss to Clemson, in a national semifinal, with a little help from the officials. His 2021 recruiting class is vying with Alabama for No. 1 in the country.
Has the Penn State wave crested and then receded? Is the gap widening?
As has been well-documented, Franklin hasn’t gotten the best high school players in Pennsylvania the last two cycles. That includes some big misses - WR Julian Fleming, Warwick OL Nolan Rucci, QB Kyle McCord, and two sons of ex-NFL stars, LB Jeremiah Trotter, Jr. and WR Marvin Harrison, Jr.
McCord (Ohio State), Trotter (Clemson) and Harrison (Ohio State) are from the state’s top high school program, St. Joseph’s Prep in Philadelphia.
“For a long time, I told everybody I was going to go (to Penn State),’’ Fleming said when he committed to Ohio State.
“It was hard. I had to crunch some stuff down. They weren’t stable on offense, defense. They weren’t pulling out games. Their coaching has been unstable for the past couple years.’’
Fleming could provide another knife-twist today. So could Justin Fields, the terrific Ohio State QB, who verbaled to Penn State as a high school sophomore in 2016, then opted for Georgia, supposedly, in part, because Penn State was too far from his Georgia home.
Still, State College is only about 200 miles father away than Columbus, Ohio.
Penn State’s quarterback, Sean Clifford, is from Cincinnati.
“I’m not here to hang with Ohio State. I’m here to beat Ohio State,’’ he said the other day. “I wouldn’t have come here if I didn’t have that mentality.’’
Ohio State didn’t recruit Clifford. You probably could have guessed that.