We’re counting down the days until kickoff. So, every day, we’ll try to make that time tick by just a little faster by also counting down the top 30 moments of James Franklin’s tenure so far. Up next — with four days left — is the No. 4 moment since Franklin took the head-coaching job.
No. 4 moment: Offseason hype for 2017 campaign
It’s not necessarily one moment. Rather, this offseason has been two primary storylines intertwined and important to James Franklin’s tenure.
Penn State running back Saquon Barkley and quarterback Trace McSorley are Heisman Trophy contenders, and the Nittany Lions are challengers for a College Football Playoff spot.
This isn’t just fan-generated hype, either. Everyone from Big Ten coaches to national media believe Barkley, McSorley and the Nittany Lions are for real.
Penn State — opening 2017 as the No. 6 team in the country — is an established power again, making the anticipation for this season all the more palpable. Given where the program is now compared to even last September, this general level of excitement is significant.
Starting with Penn State’s dynamic duo, Barkley has the second-best Heisman odds behind Southern California quarterback Sam Darnold, while McSorley sits behind 15 players on Bovada Sportsbook’s most recent list.
Outside of obvious potential, Heisman odds at this time of the year are based on publicity — and Barkley has received plenty of it with long-form features on ESPN.com, Sports Illustrated and other national outlets.
Whenever the TV is flipped on, it seems Barkley is on SportsCenter or Big Ten Network. The same can be said for McSorley, too.
Barkley and McSorley aren’t Happy Valley’s best kept secrets anymore. They’re national figures as the Nittany Lions make a national title push.
That’s the other half of this offseason: the College Football Playoff hype — and expectations — surrounding Penn State.
There hasn’t been this much excitement around a Penn State football team since 1994.
The Nittany Lions were ranked No. 3 in the preseason 23 years ago, and they finished the season undefeated. With Barkley, McSorley and more starters returning after a Big Ten title, Penn State fans believe that can happen again.
After back-to-back 7-6 seasons to start Franklin’s tenure, there were questions entering 2016 where he could take Penn State.
After a 2-2 start to last season, those concerns were magnified.
But after a trip to the Rose Bowl — keyed by McSorley and Barkley — the Nittany Lions have high hopes for 2017.
And that offseason hype alone is indicative of where Franklin has guided this program.