Penn State’s James Franklin and Wisconsin’s Paul Chryst were both asked the same question — and, essentially, they offered the same response.
Coach, do you think the College Football Playoff talk has overshadowed the importance of conference championships?
“Not for us,” Franklin said around 4 p.m. Friday in the Lucas Oil Stadium press room.
“Not for us,” Chryst said, about a half hour earlier.
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Franklin and Chryst, whose teams square off Saturday night in the Big Ten Championship game, aren’t focused on how the evening might impact the four-team playoff. Franklin is keyed in on beating the No. 6 Badgers, and Chryst has his sights set on defeating the No. 7 Nittany Lions.
Does the winner deserve to get in to the four-team playoff? Neither of them, at least on the outside, seemed to care much at all.
“We’re really excited about being here,” Franklin said. “We’re really excited about being able to play for a Big Ten Championship. After that, whatever happens we’ll be very appreciative.”
Chryst said something along the same lines.
“This is a big deal that we’re here,” the Badgers coach said. “I think one quality of this team that I’ve appreciated a ton this year is their ability to make the most of the moment. They’ve done that.”
Either the Nittany Lions or the Badgers winning and reaching the College Football Playoff would be monumental for each program, no doubt.
But winning a conference title is something Penn State (10-2, 8-1) or Wisconsin (10-2, 7-2) could hang its hat on, regardless if they’re among the top-four teams come Sunday afternoon.
The last time Penn State won the Big Ten was in 2008, when it shared the title with Ohio State. The Nittany Lions split it with the Buckeyes in 2005, as well.
Penn State’s 1994 Big Ten championship, one year after joining the conference, is the Nittany Lions’ only outright title.
Consider that from 2012 through 2015 the Nittany Lions were 16-16 in Big Ten play, and beating Wisconsin on Saturday night would be a huge accomplishment so soon after the NCAA levied sanctions in July 2012.
“How long was it going to take us to get to one of these games? I didn’t have a number on it,” Franklin, in his third year at the helm, said. “Obviously, we walked into an interesting situation, one of the most interesting situations in college football history. I’m really proud of the work of the coaches, players and our administration.”
And as far as the Badgers are concerned, they have some unfinished business to tend to.
Wisconsin won the first two Big Ten Championship games in 2011 and 2012 while sharing the title in 2010, but two years ago the Badgers’ trip to Indy left a bitter taste in their mouths. Wisconsin was obliterated by Ohio State 59-0 in the 2014 conference championship game.
“You always learn from experiences, good or bad,” said Chryst, who’s in his second year as Wisconsin’s head coach. “Tomorrow night will be a whole ‘nother game. We don’t know what’s going to happen.”
College Football Playoff implications aside, both coaches are just hoping they sit at the podium Saturday night with the Big Ten trophy by their side.
“The only thing that exists for us is Wisconsin and the Big Ten Championship game,” Franklin said. “If we take care of our business and play the way we’re capable of playing, we’ll be happy with the result.
“I’m not going to sit here and make a case for us (for the playoff). Our focus is on Wisconsin.”