Franklin’s approach paying off for PSU

James Franklin might have set a world record two weeks ago when he said the word “Indiana” 15 consecutive times. I’m not sure why anyone ever would have said it 16 or more times, but we’ll check with the folks at Guinness.

Last week, Franklin cleverly offered up a unique answer that included a mixture of “uncomfortable silence, Rutgers, uncomfortable silence, Rutgers.”

All of this, of course, is kind of silly.

It’s also kind of brilliant.

Compare Franklin’s approach at keeping his Penn State players focused to that of open-mouth-insert-foot expert Bobby Petrino of Louisville, and it’s a case study of why saying very little or nothing is often the best thing coaches can do.

Feeling his team was being overlooked in the College Football Playoff rankings two weeks ago, Petrino offered up this almost-instant classic blunder of a comment:

“Maybe I made a mistake. Maybe looking back at it, Florida State, I should have kept all the starters in and scored 80 points and did that. I don’t understand why it’s like that. I really don’t.”

What Petrino also didn’t understand is that his team was two weeks away from getting flat out embarrassed in a 36-10 loss at Houston on Thursday, eliminating the Cardinals from the CFP discussion altogether.

But Petrino didn’t stop there. He also put a curse on Clemson two weeks ago.

“You look at Clemson and the schedule they beat, the guys in the top 10 they beat and what Alabama’s done. Why isn’t Clemson rated No. 1?”

Ummm, yeah. Because Alabama wouldn’t lose at home to Pitt — like ever — the way Clemson did the following week.

As Petrino was shooting his mouth off, Franklin was just a few days away from going on about Indiana, Indiana, Indiana, Indiana …

I’ve been in the sports media business for 24 years, and I can tell you without question that the one phrase I’ve heard more than any other in all that time is this: “Control what you can control.”

It is far and away the most important thing any athlete at any level of competition can do.

To Franklin’s credit, he has immediately shut down all public discussion of anything other than the upcoming game. And it has worked, as the Nittany Lions so far have been able to avoid any type of traps that would knock them out of the hunt for a CFP berth.

Now, there’s a very basic formula for Penn State to reach the Final Four:

n PSU must beat Michigan State this week

n Ohio State must beat Michigan this week

n PSU must beat Wisconsin or Nebraska in the Big Ten championship game next week.

That’s it. No matter what anybody else does, that would make Penn State the Big Ten champion. And at this point, with all the craziness that’s taken place in college football this season, it would seem to be impossible for the Lions not to make the CFP in that scenario.

Don’t count on Franklin discussing any of that stuff this week, however. Let’s see if he’s got another gem such as “uncomfortable silence” up his sleeve.

Is it boring to hear? Yes. As a media member, I prefer to have coaches tell you what they’re really thinking, to be honest, to not use coach speak.

It would be fun covering Bobby Petrino, because you never know what crazy thing he might say. Or do. (Insert your own motorcycle or affair joke here.)

The problem with what Petrino said about the rankings — aside from being way premature — is that it gave his players a very public false sense of entitlement and even more cockiness than they already had as typical college standouts.

Conversely, Franklin has shielded himself and his players from any of that stuff by instantly shutting down talk of looking ahead. The PSU players have done the same thing.

In a lot of ways, athletes and other celebrities live in a constant no-win situation with the media. Everything they say will be scrutinized, and the slightest misstep will be held against them.

Franklin’s “dominate the state” slogan from his introductory press conference, for instance, still gets used against him. Or at least it did until a few weeks ago, when PSU started down this incredible path with the huge upset of Ohio State, and now very few people are criticizing Franklin for anything.

Which is the way it should be for a guy who very well could be named the national coach of the year.

Franklin is earning a lot of reasons to brag, and if the Lions do earn a trip to the CFP, this will go down as the most incredible season in program history.

Penn State fans need to do the unthinkable and root really hard for Ohio State at noon Saturday.

If the Buckeyes can pull that one out, Penn State will control its own destiny with regards to a CFP berth.

It won’t be easy by any stretch of the imagination.

Michigan State has a lot of good players and, despite being 1-7 in the Big Ten, has been playing much better. The Spartans beat Rutgers 49-0 last week, and Saturday they gave Ohio State all it wanted in a 17-16 loss.

Surprisingly, Penn State opened as a 13¢-point favorite over Michigan State. That’s a big number, and it wouldn’t be surprising at all if the Spartans take this week’s game down to the wire.

This has been a remarkable season for the Lions, one that absolutely no one could have seen coming. Talking about all these playoff scenarios is a lot of fun, and if things go well Saturday, we’ll get to keep doing it for another week.

Just don’t expect Franklin to join in on the conversation. Wisely.

Cory Giger is the host of “Sports Central” weekdays from 4 to 6 p.m. on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM.

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