James Franklin vs. Ryan Day? Should Penn State be more all in on football? Mailbag

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Thanks for the wide-ranging Penn State football questions as we await the start of spring practice.

In my mind, we have three categories this time: football-specific, NIL and Beaver Stadium. I have more in-depth stories in the works on the latter two topics, so I won’t get too in the weeds about them in here, though I will dig into NIL a bit.

Questions have been lightly edited.

Why does James Franklin not receive the same amount of national criticism as Ryan Day? Ryan Day continuously beats him and out-recruits him and Ohio State is in the Playoff more often than not. Day went out to the portal this year and absolutely crushed it and made a big-time hire in Chip Kelly as OC. He understands he is in win-now mode. Do you think Franklin’s thought process was the same this offseason? — Anthony C. 

I think both have received quite a bit of criticism within the past year especially, but I do understand your point about the national perception.

My guess — and it’s a little harder for me to gauge this because I’m so entrenched in covering Penn State, so I hear all the criticisms of this program more — is that it’s because the expectations are higher for Day and Ohio State. Ohio State has shown that it can compete for and win a national championship. Penn State hasn’t. Until the Nittany Lions are legitimately in the conversation, there will be plenty of criticism, especially locally, but I also imagine it might be hard to be outraged at something or someone when this program hasn’t won a national title in any of these players’ lifetimes.

The maize-and-blue roadblock for Day is the reason for so much criticism. At Penn State, it’s hard to pick just one issue. It’s been several 10-2 seasons — but with losses in the most meaningful games. It’s been a nine-OT thud against Illinois. It’s the supposed generational talent at quarterback who hasn’t yet looked the part amid questions about the direction of the offense. Most remember where this program was in 2012, but the abrupt turnaround during the 2016 season re-established what fans thought was possible Penn State hasn’t gotten back to a Big Ten title game since then.

The sanctions era is long behind this program, and expectations should be higher. So I understand the frustrations. But the bar has been even higher at Ohio State, which thus has a brighter national spotlight shining on it. The reality is Ohio State has performed better and recruited better  — at an elite level — and has become the measuring stick that Penn State hasn’t overcome since the blocked field goal return.

Now, you mention urgency. Both programs have it. Franklin firing offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich during the season — something he previously had not done here — is a move that told me he understood what’s at stake. There’s no way he didn’t hear the boos in the tunnel after the loss to Michigan or the criticisms, near and far, after losses to Ohio State and the Wolverines. The man is in tune with all these things, perhaps maybe too much so.

So yes, he knows there’s urgency, but if Penn State goes 10-2 again but this time makes the 12-team Playoff, does that change any of these complaints? I don’t know. If Ohio State gets in and doesn’t advance past the first round, there will absolutely be criticism. The expectations are just different.


Player opt-ins open for EA College Football 25

Any chatter about the upcoming college football video game and the $600 plus copy of game offer from EA for player inclusion? Nicholas Singleton was quick to post that he’ll be in the game. Anticipating any notable holdouts? — Mike B. 

While I am not particularly tuned into the video game world and have not owned any gaming system since having a PS2 as a kid, it’s impossible to ignore this topic.

Singleton and KeAndre Lambert-Smith both announced that they plan to participate. My best guess is the vast majority, if not all, of the roster participates. There are added incentives for certain players to promote the game too. But I think the novelty of being in a video game — let alone this particular game — will be the detail most are excited about.

Maybe around the nation we’ll see certain players hold out, but I struggle to see anyone notable here doing it. I do plan to ask players and coaches about the game and their expectations for it this spring and will pass along whatever I find.

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Abdul Carter is moving from LB to DE this year. (Dan Rainville / USA Today Network)

I’m reading on the NFL Draft boards that Chop Robinson is viewed by the draft pundits as “undersized.” Given that Chop and Abdul Carter are essentially the same size, do you think moving Carter to defensive end will hurt his draft possibilities next year? — Jessica R. 

I wouldn’t worry much about any assessment that Robinson could be undersized. He was productive playing in the Big Ten, a conference known for massive, mauling offensive linemen. Plus, he has special traits that are going to shine this week during the NFL combine. I suspect he will test really well — and don’t just take my word for it. Colleague Bruce Feldman lists Robinson as the player he’s most interested to see work out in Indianapolis. All it takes is one team to be wowed by him. Someone will.

As for Carter, I like the position switch. Honestly, I’m a little surprised it’s taken this long for even the possibility of it to take hold. If anything, I think this could make Carter more valuable in the NFL Draft. Per PFF, last season Carter rushed the passer on 35 percent of pash-rush snaps but ranked third on the team with 28 total pressures. The skills are there. In many ways, it feels like how Penn State planned to utilize Micah Parsons ahead of a junior season that never materialized.

We’ll hear from Chuck Losey, Penn State’s strength coach, later this week. It’s always the last media availability before spring break and serves as a reminder that once the team returns to campus, spring football begins. I’m curious if Carter (listed at 6-3, 250) is physically where they want him or if they’ll want him to gain a little more weight this offseason. While it’s difficult to compare anyone to Parsons — and I’m not saying Carter will become him — Parsons was 6-3, 245 during his Penn State career, a similar size to both Carter and Robinson (6-3, 254).



Why Penn State changing Abdul Carter’s position makes sense — and what’s next

In your estimation, how serious is the administration about being a TRUE football school? I love how diverse the sports played at PSU are, and a few of them are best in show. But at OSU and Michigan, they have enough donors to carry elite basketball, football and (insert sport) programs. I don’t believe Penn State does. At what point does the admin realize they can only afford to be all in on football, and should they choose to do that, what would that look like? Is it as simple as infusing money into State College and the surrounding areas?  — Anthony B. 

I think we first need to define “true football school.” If we’re talking about a place that has infrastructure for 107,000-plus people to attend home games, has a head coach whose salary is among the top 15 nationally and has a team that plays in one of the two most powerful conferences in the sport, then Penn State checks those boxes. But they don’t have the recent successes of the schools you mention like Ohio State and Michigan, which both won a national championship in the four-team CFP era.

So why is that? Is it because of spending or because there are other challenges or reasons why Penn State hasn’t performed at the highest of levels? It’s a little of everything. If it was just one detail, I guarantee it’d be fixed.

There are legitimate challenges with Penn State’s location. Not everyone wants to be in Central Pennsylvania, hours away from the nearest city. But it’s also not the only university with an isolated location.

You mention the donors. Terry Pegula’s money hasn’t publicly extended to football. It also took a few years and some public fighting between NIL collectives until they eventually merged and Happy Valley United launched last year. One of the things I’ve heard so much about since the start of NIL is that Penn State wasn’t quick to adapt. There’s truth in that. Penn State’s approach to NIL initially was figuring out how to make athletes entrepreneurs. That’s not how every school approached it. Did that approach cost them a marquee football player or two? Perhaps, but rarely do these things come down to one detail.

Penn State’s NIL efforts have gotten much better, but it also didn’t do a great job of educating the fan base for the first few years. Fans don’t want to be hit over the head with the constant ask for money, all while many choose to use their money for season tickets or seatbacks or a membership to the tunnel club or for endowments or any other possible avenue. While the university prides itself on having the world’s largest dues-paying alumni association — and no doubt there’s strength in numbers — not everyone is going to give. There’s also a portion of the fan base that has stated repeatedly that it won’t give unless Penn State honors Joe Paterno. There are undoubtedly some unique factors in play.

Do they need a treasure chest of NIL funds and financial support to become a “true football school”? It certainly would help, but it’s not the only factor.

Cardale Jones co-founded a collective at Ohio State, where C.J. Stroud gave a sizable undisclosed donation. Would that be an option here? Again, not everyone in a position to give is going to. Many athletes view the time spent and the wear and tear on their bodies — and the butts they helped get into seats — as their dedication to their school. I get that too.

Now, I hate the idea of Penn State or any school solely being “all in” on football. That’s a win-at-all-cost mindset that’s disheartening to all the other athletes and former athletes whose successes and experiences are every bit as important and worthwhile as a football player. Whether intended or not with your question, when I think of places going “all in” in football, I often translate that to cutting sports. That has not been a topic of conversation around here, nor should it be. Penn State has always been committed to having a lot of sports alongside a strong football program.

I understand the arguments for feeding the cash cow. Penn State continues to dedicate a lot of resources to football. It understands the value and finances that a winning football program provides to all other sports.

But I’ve spent plenty of time around some of the other programs here too, and many of those sports do have dedicated boosters that have transformed their program. Some of the best wrestlers on the planet are in Rec Hall. Many are here because of the pull of the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club. State College is hosting the wrestling Olympic trials this spring. That’s a huge deal. That program was elevated by boosters who said enough is enough and pushed the search committee to go out, swing big and hire Cael Sanderson. Without their influence, this dynasty doesn’t happen.



The origins of college sports’ most dominant dynasty: How Penn State hired Cael Sanderson

If you go across campus to the ice arena, seemingly every hour of every day kids are using the community rink, all while Penn State is practicing on the main rink. That was all part of Pegula’s plan. I watched basketball donors sit in the front row with Penn State staffers during the Return to Rec Hall game, their way of thanking them for their contributions. People do care an awful lot about the other sports, even if their facilities don’t have a 107,000-seat capacity.

Undoubtedly there are situations unique to Penn State, but I think we also have to recognize the changing landscape of college football right now too. It seems near-sighted to me to go all in on one sport because, even if it does go all in, there are still no guarantees it wins it all. Then what? The winters here are long enough. Imagine them without the excitement of other sports?

I watched three or four Kansas games last year, and their offense was dynamic and unpredictable. How much of that offense will be installed in the first year? Will Franklin allow all of it to flow throughout the game (even in tight fourth quarters)? What should we realistically expect? — David. E. 

What I’ve found most interesting thus far regarding the new offense is that they’re trying to figure out how much of the old offense they can keep. Whether it’s verbiage or concepts, they’re still working through it. Drew Allar hit on this a couple of weeks ago when talking about the transition to Andy Kotelnicki.

“One of the big things coach Franklin told the whole offensive unit when he hired Coach K was he wasn’t hiring Coach K to come in and revamp the whole offense and just give us his whole playbook from Kansas and all the previous stops,” Allar said. “… Honestly, it’s a lot of carryover from last year. Some tweaks and changes, simplifying some things down.”



Will Penn State’s new offense lead to breakthroughs for Drew Allar and Julian Fleming?

Now, I wouldn’t panic after reading that and assume they’re going to be too similar to last year. Clearly they made a coordinator change for a reason, and so much of Kotelnicki’s success regardless of where he’s coached comes from his creativity and his willingness to adapt and tailor the offense to whatever that group does best.

I think we’ll see a lot of shifts and motion. We don’t yet know how the receiving corps is going to develop. The running backs should be the strength of the offense, but they’ll need the revamped offensive line to perform well. There are so many variables with the offense that I too want to see what it looks like — an opportunity we all should have April 13 at the spring game.

(Top photo: Joseph Maiorana / USA Today)

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