Franklin’s status looms over B1G showdown

Earlier this week, news broke that Penn State coach James Franklin had switched agents, signing with CAA’s Jimmy Sexton, considered one of the most powerful in the country, especially in the SEC.

The move was actually made earlier this fall, and Franklin has every right to choose whatever representation he wants. In a vacuum, it signifies absolutely nothing.

Yet Franklin isn’t operating in a vacuum. And the timing of the public — namely Penn State fans — finding out couldn’t have been much worse.

The 20th-ranked Nittany Lions (5-2) are on a two-game losing streak after dropping a top-five clash at Iowa and then inexcusably being upset by lowly Illinois (3-5) in a nine-overtime game in which Penn State failed to convert six two-point conversions. A season that had everyone dreaming of the College Football Playoff is on the brink.

Dan Wetzel, Pete Thamel and Pat Forde make their cases. (Yahoo Sports illustration)
Dan Wetzel, Pete Thamel and Pat Forde make their cases. (Yahoo Sports illustration)

The lack of offense — 20 points against Iowa and just 18 against Illinois — has frustrated Lions fans. The fact that starting quarterback Sean Clifford has been injured and thus limited is an excuse and a point of criticism. Why doesn’t Penn State have a capable backup? (Former backup Will Levis transferred to Kentucky and is having an excellent season.)

And considering Franklin, who is 65-30 at Penn State and previously did a phenomenal job at Vanderbilt, is being bandied about as a candidate for open coaching jobs at LSU and USC, the idea of needing a new agent raises eyebrows. Fair or not, fans wonder if he even wants to be at Penn State.

So with the season — and perhaps Franklin’s future in State College — teetering, the Nittany Lions head to Columbus to play fifth-ranked Ohio State, which, after some early season struggles, has begun annihilating opponents. The Buckeyes have won their last four games by an average of 46.3 points.

This is a college football game in which things such as emotion, motivation and team morale play into betting decisions, not simply the health of Clifford (100 percent, per Franklin) or the growth of Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud or the impact of a hyped crowd at the Horseshoe on Saturday night.

All of which is broken down on the “Race for the Case” edition of the “College Football Enquirer,” with the Buckeyes entering the game as 18.5-point favorites at BetMGM.

Franklin, for his part, said this week that his job status hasn’t impacted the program and that he is open with the players and his coaching staff. This isn’t the first time he has been listed as a possible candidate elsewhere. Now in his eighth season, he has stayed put.

“We’ve kept it very direct,” Franklin told reporters. “There’s things that we have discussions in great detail in our building with our family and the players and the staff. We try to do that the best we possibly can. We’ve done a pretty good job of that over my eight years here, and we’ll continue to try to do that.

“There’s things that we can control and there’s things that we can’t from the outside. But this has been a story that’s happened on numerous occasions, and we try to keep it as focused as we possibly can.”

That sure isn’t Mike Tomlin’s “never” speech about having no interest in any open college coaching job and his satisfaction with leading the Pittsburgh Steelers.

It’s as good as Penn State is getting though.

All of it makes for a potentially tumultuous Saturday. There are plenty of Nittany Lion fans who, while appreciative of the general competence that Franklin has brought to the program, are frustrated over winning a single Big Ten title in 2016 and an inability to get to the College Football Playoff.

Whether that’s fair hardly matters. This is a strange situation in which other schools want Franklin, and maybe some fans won’t be sad to see him go. They may want to be careful what they wish for, of course, but that’s the external mood around the program.

Does it seep into the performance Saturday? Or with Clifford back do the Lions respond with the kind of performance that drove them to the top five of the national rankings a few weeks ago?

And is there a coach in the country who needs a victory — which would be a major upset — more than Franklin this weekend?

Games also discussed on the podcast, plus everyone’s lock of the week, with spreads per BetMGM:

No. 6 Michigan at No. 8 Michigan State (+4.5)

No. 9 Iowa at Wisconsin (-3.5)

No. 1 Georgia vs. Florida (+14)

No. 10 Mississippi at No. 18 Auburn (-2)

No. 20 Penn State at No. 5 Ohio State (-18.5)