Barring overtime at The Horseshoe, Penn State will know before kicking off against Michigan State whether or not it has a shot at reaching the Big Ten Championship game.
The No. 7 Nittany Lions (9-2, 7-1) will win the Big Ten East division and head to Indianapolis for a conference title berth if they defeat the Spartans and No. 2 Ohio State handles No. 3 Michigan.
However, “The Game” starts at noon, while Penn State-Michigan State gets underway at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
So will the Nittany Lions be scoreboard watching?
While he wants his players focused on the task at hand, Penn State head coach James Franklin isn’t going to shy away from discussing the elephant in the room.
“We’re going to talk about it with the team,” Franklin said at his Tuesday press conference, when asked about addressing the Ohio State-Michigan outcome. “That game is right before ours. How that game plays out, who wins, who loses, how people look at that and how that impacts our future. There’s no doubt that’s going to be a factor. So we’re going to discuss it ahead of time.”
Franklin, who has committed to focusing on the game ahead and not Penn State’s vault into the College Football Playoff and national conversation since the initial rankings came out a month ago, still maintained that position to a degree.
“None of that matters if we don’t handle our business on Saturday against Michigan State,” the coach said. “After the game is over, then we’ll find out kind of what our next step on our journey is.”
But Franklin isn’t going to ignore that the monumental game is happening. In the age of instant news, he recognizes that it’s kind of pointless to try to keep his players in the dark.
“That information will be out there the way social media is, the way the fans are, the reaction in the stadium, things like that. They’ll be aware of it,” Franklin said. “It’s not like we just put our head in the sand and act like these things aren’t going on. We discuss them as a program, we discuss them as a staff, with the players, let people get off their chest what they need to get off their chest, make sure we’re approaching things the right way, the way the players want to approach it as well as the coaches.”
That still begs the question: will the Michigan-Ohio State game be shown on the Beaver Stadium videoboards during pregame warmups? In recent home games, the stadium has displayed live action in the hours leading up to kickoff, an attempt to help filter fans to their seats early to avoid long security lines. The team arrives at Beaver Stadium at 1 p.m., while gates open 30 minutes later.
Franklin isn’t sure if the game will be shown while his team warms up. It’s a discussion he still needs to have with administrators, his staff and players.
“There’s been a lot of things we’ve been doing to get some of the fans into the stadium a little bit earlier when they’re trying to finish up games in the RV lots, things like that, I get that,” Franklin said. “But we just have to have a plan. That’s something we’ve started talking through.
“Once again, however that game plays out, it is going to have an impact on our future, but it can’t impact how we play on Saturday. That’s the important thing.”