After 71,000 packed Beaver Stadium on Saturday, around 700 people, consisting of coaches, players and their families, met up for a picnic to cap spring practice — and in a way, close the books on Penn State’s shocking 2016 season.
The bling was dished out, as the Nittany Lions received their Big Ten championship rings, blue, silver and as shiny as they’ll ever be.
Now, unless he met up with recruits after the picnic, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise if James Franklin took the ring, went home, and put it in his sock drawer. Or maybe he gave it to his wife, Fumi, for her to hide.
Out of sight and out of mind — at least, that’s how Franklin feels about the 2016 season now that 2017 fall camp is on the horizon.
No one will forget last year’s campaign. Trying to erase the memory of Marcus Allen’s blocked kick or Saquon Barkley’s Rose Bowl run would be impossible. To make Penn State a consistent contender, though, Franklin is approaching 2017 with both eyes looking forward, and 2016 firmly behind him.
“This 2017 team has not achieved anything,” he said after the Blue-White Game. “This James Franklin has not achieved anything, Saquon Barkley hasn’t achieved anything. Those things are in the past. What are we going to do in the present, and what are we going to do moving forward to be the type of program we want to be?”
Well first things first, what type of program do they want to be? An 11-3 record after rebounding from a 2-2 start is a hell of a year, but remember, Franklin went 14-12 in his previous two years at Penn State. Entering his fourth year at the helm, he wants that 11-3 record or better to become the norm in Happy Valley, not just a blip on the national radar.
Franklin thinks that’ll happen if a “championship lifestyle” — how they practice, lift, and teach younger players — becomes ingrained in the Nittany Lions’ culture.
It showed up a bit during spring camp, with guys like Lamont Wade and Mike Miranda learning early and making an impact. Seeing those tangible examples has led Franklin to believe his program is “headed in the right direction,” but the Nittany Lions aren’t there yet.
“We will get back to focusing on making each day our masterpiece and making that day the best we possibly can,” Franklin said. “My belief is that the more days you put together like that, life takes care of itself. The Saturdays will take care of themselves, and the exams on Friday will take care of themselves. We are not changing. That is going to be our approach.”
Sky-high expectations won’t affect that, either, according to Franklin. Penn State is a top-5, at least top-10, squad to open the 2017 season.
With so many weapons returning, especially Barkley and Trace McSorleym the Nittany Lions aren’t going to be this surprise, oh-look-at-that story again. It’ll be the most hyped-up Penn State team in recent memory. They’re expected to perform, and expected to win after their 2016 resurgence.
And Franklin doesn’t think that, or any preseason rankings, will get to his players’ heads. In fact, he likes that the word “complacency” has been brought up a few times this spring.
“Complacency is a good thing,” Franklin said. “It is good that people are asking us about complacency because that means that we have gotten to a point. We have gotten to that stage where people would ask us that question.”
And now it’s time to build on that.
With Blue-White weekend over and the Big Ten title rings distributed, fall camp is what lies ahead.
The 2017 season is on-deck — and so is an opportunity for Franklin and his Nittany Lions to take that next step as a program.