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Franklin does little to quash USC rumors

Following are the main storylines of Penn State coach James Franklin’s weekly press conference:

Saturday’s game: vs. Auburn 7:30 p.m. (ABC)

Main storyline: With USC finally electing to move on from coach Clay Helton, who has struggled in recent seasons at the helm of the Trojans program, rumors immediately began swirling around Franklin and the possibility of him being a frontrunner for the team’s head coaching vacancy. Southern Cal has long been rumored to have interest in Franklin, with an Associated Press report by well-respected national college football writer Ralph D. Russo last November suggesting that it would have been the perfect time for the Trojans to hire Franklin. Helton was dismissed after the Trojans put forth a poor showing against Stanford this past week, losing 42-28.

Franklin did little to squash the rumors Tuesday but instead noted that he “can’t stand distractions. He said he would discuss it with the team’s leadership council and handle it internally, preferring to keep the focus on Auburn. “I can’t stand any type of distraction, so I’ll discuss this today with the leadership council, so that we can make sure that all of our energy is on our preparation for Auburn, and that’s how we will handle it,” Franklin said. Among other national high-profile candidates rumored for the USC position include Oregon’s Mario Cristobal, Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell and former Washington coach Chris Petersen. Alabama offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien, the former PSU coach in 2012-13, has also been mentioned.

White noise: The annual Penn State whiteout game will not take place against a Big Ten rival this season and will instead take place on Saturday against non-conference foe and traditional SEC powerhouse Auburn. College GameDay will also be on site for ABC’s national game of the week. The Whiteout will be Penn State’s 17th game in the yearly tradition, and the Nittany Lions have an 8-8 record all-time in whiteout games. The last time the whiteout game was played against a team other than Ohio State or Michigan was in 2011, when the Nittany Lions lost to Alabama, 27-11. Franklin encouraged fans to come out to the game and joked that he will buy spectators throat lozenges if they lose their voice yelling at the game. “If you’re a sports fan, you need to have a whiteout on your bucket list,” he said. “I think that it is something that everyone should experience. I’ve been doing this a long time in pretty much every major conference, including the NFL, and this is as good as it gets. The impact and the electricity that it provides for our town and our state…it’s special. It puts us in position for our future and recruiting and shows student-athletes the type of environment that they will get to play in.”

Scouting the Tigers: Auburn enters Saturday as the 22nd-ranked team in the country and will present the Nittany Lions with one of their toughest non-conference matchups in recent memory. The Tigers come in red hot after blowout victories over lesser opponents in Akron and Alabama State. The Tigers have a talented quarterback in Bo Nix and possess multiple weapons on both sides of the ball, including standout running backs Tank Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter. Wide receiver Demetris Robertson is a big-play threat as well.

Defensively, the Tigers have allowed just 10 points in two weeks and will provide a formidable test for offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich and the Penn State offense.

“They have 16 starters returning on this club, they are talented, and they are what you expect to see in an SEC football team,” Franklin said. “Derek Mason is one of the most respected defensive coordinators in all of college football. We’re excited about the opportunity (to play Auburn).”

SUBHD: Evaluating offense

Franklin said he has been pleased with the progression of the offense from week to week but continues to see room for improvement.

“I think that we have shown some flashes, and I think that we can be more consistent there and more explosive,” Franklin said. “There are some plays that we’ve missed — whether we missed a read or overthrew a ball a little bit or a different play call — I think that for where we are at in the season, if we can continue to get better and get better in every area — running the ball, protection and explosive plays we will like where we are at. We’re going to have to do that Saturday, but I think we are making progress.”

Compiled by William Whisler of the Lewistown Sentinel. Whisler can be reached at wwhisler@lewistownsentinel.com.

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