Keep your head in the game: Lions will need right mindset against Memphis
DALLAS — The bowl season, especially the non-College Football Playoff games, can be littered with duds.
Witness the 14-0 (lack of) effort Miami — the U, not of Ohio — mailed in during Thursday’s Independence Bowl loss to Louisana Tech that resulted in the Hurricanes’ offensive coordinator being shown the door a few hours later.
Though Penn State’s greatest historical moments occurred during bowl games — with wins over Miami and Georgia for the Nittany Lions’ two national titles topping that list — the Lions have authored a few clunkers over the years.
A few quick entries, all losses: 1987 Citrus (Clemson, 35-10), 1992 Blockbuster (Stanford, 24-3), 1997 Citrus (Florida, 21-6), 2002 Capital One (Auburn, 13-9) and the invite Penn State should have turned down after the roof collapsed, the 2011 Ticket City (Houston, 30-14).
James Franklin’s tenure has produced a 2-3 bowl record, and last year’s loss in the Citrus Bowl to Kentucky was particularly uninspiring. Not coincidentally, a half-dozen Lions announced their intentions to bypass their final seasons of eligibility the next day.
Playing Memphis in the Cotton Bowl in an 11 a.m. (local time) kickoff on the day of the CFP semifinals could understandably be accompanied by the anticipation of a jayvee game, which is why the Lions’ collective mindset has been Franklin’s top priority since the bowl pairings were announced three weeks ago.
“I think the mentality is critical in bowl games,” Franklin said at the final pre-game press conference Friday morning. “We’re making sure our guys are going into this with the right approach.”
Penn State’s seniors, having been part of last year’s game with Kentucky, organized a players-only meeting to solidify the Nits’ focus. They seem to want to be here, the first step toward bowl success.
“I think a lot of it has to do that we have a healthy respect for our opponent,” Franklin said.
A players’ coach who is totally plugged into social media and of college football’s moving parts, particularly this month — coaching changes, player decisions on their future, the transfer portal — Franklin knows the potential for distractions since “these young people have so many voices in their ear, more than ever.”
Even though Memphis lost its head coach, Mike Norvell, to Florida State, the Tigers are dangerous as they can complete a 12-1 year while facing a marquee opponent from a Power-5 conference (Memphis, of the American Athletic Conference is among the Group of 5, mainly lesser-known programs).
“You got Memphis in a situation where I think (this is the) first New Year’s Six bowl game in program history,” Franklin said.
While Memphis can make history, not to mention give new coach Ryan Silverfield his first victory, Penn State can finish off the third 11-win season of his six-year PSU tenure and take considerable momentum into 2020.
Franklin has tried to learn from past defeats, and he’s been loose here.
With the large Cotton Bowl trophy placed between the coaches Friday, Franklin playfully tried to edge it toward him.
He also kidded that “I know Ryan (Silverfield) has probably got a flat screen in his basement” the size of the gigantic jumbotron that dwarfs AT&T Stadium, home of the Cowboys.
Franklin’s attitude, business on the field yet enjoying the bowl experience, rubbed off on new offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca, who observed a couple practices here and told Franklin, “You guys work really hard, but everybody seems to have a whole lot of fun while they’re doing it, which I think is a great compliment in today’s college football, that you better create that type of environment.”
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.