NEW YORK - Despite traveling a bumpy road trying to navigate his team through a season with fewer scholarship players than any of its opponents, first-year Penn State head coach James Franklin has managed to keep the same enthusiasm he displayed when he was hired.
By and large, the Penn State fan base has been pleased by the promise Franklin has shown, particularly in the recruiting area that has set the Nittany Lions up well for the future, and maybe not as much by the fact the Lions are 2-6 after a 4-0 start and could finish below .500 if they don't defeat Boston College Saturday in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium.
Like his predecessor, Bill O'Brien, Franklin realizes he is being measured against the legacy of the late Joe Paterno, whose accomplishments over 46 seasons considerably overshadow what he may or may not have known before he was fired at the height of the Jerry Sandusky scandal revelations in 2011. Still, in carrying the program forward, Franklin thinks he must do it his way.
"It's different," Franklin said Friday at a Yankee Stadium news conference in perhaps his most candid comments on the subject.
"Penn State is a place where we had the same coach for a hundred years. We have tremendous respect for our history and our past. But I can't be anybody but James Franklin. I think I'm probably very different in a lot of ways than the last two coaches that were in this role.
"I hope either we already have shown our respect and our pride of being here and how we're going to do the job or, if it hasn't happened already, then I hope it's happening over time, that we're building and earning everybody's trust and respect, because this is a very, very important position in Penn State and our community. I know how much it means to everybody."
Franklin had indicated that because of injuries and players' being redshirted, he was down to 41 available scholarship players for the Lions' last game against Michigan State out of the maximum of 75 the program was allowed to have under revised NCAA sanctions.
Franklin said fans saw the depth issues Penn State experienced in games all season. But he added the scholarship limits affected the team in practice, hurting competition at individual positions.
He recalled a recent conversation with fifth-year guard Miles Dieffenbach, who told his coach that he ran on the fifth team when he redshirted his first year.
"Now we're in a position where the freshmen show up and on the offensive line, they were second team from the day they walked on campus," Franklin said. "Fortunately, we were able to redshirt those guys and save their years. We're trying to create the most competitive environment that we can in the country, and that's not just on game days, but in practice every single day.
"That's probably been our biggest challenge. It's also making the right decision for Penn State long-term, because the easy thing would be to pull everybody's redshirt and play everybody, but we didn't think that was the right decision long-term."
The Nittany Lions want to send their seniors out as winners Saturday while giving their underclassmen momentum going into the offseason. Franklin hopes he will continue to build trust in the eyes of Nittany Nation.
"You've got a coach and a coaching staff that is just as proud to be here and represent the community as anybody else," he said. "It's not a sprint, it's a marathon. Every single day we wake up trying to represent Penn State the right way."
PINSTRIPE BOWL: PENN STATE vs. BOSTON COLLEGE
Saturday at 4:30 p.m., Yankee Stadium, New York
Records: Penn State, 6-6, 2-6 Big Ten (sixth in East Division). Boston College, 7-5, 4-4 ACC (fourth in Atlantic Division).
TV/Radio: ESPN; WNTP-AM (990), WNPV-AM (1440).
Coaches: Penn State, James Franklin (first season, 6-6; 30-21 overall in four seasons). Boston College, Steve Addazio (second season, 14-11; 27-22 overall in four seasons)
Series: The two teams have played 23 times since 1946. The Nittany Lions won 19 of the first 20 games in the series, but the Eagles have captured the last three, including a 21-7 win in their last meeting, in 2004. Penn State's last victory, 28-21, came in 1991.
Bowl record: This is Penn State's 45th bowl appearance. The Nittany Lions are 27-15-2 in bowl games (five wins vacated by the NCAA) with their last victory, 19-17 over Louisiana State, coming in the 2010 Capital One Citrus Bowl in Orlando. In their most recent bowl contest, they lost, 30-14, to Houston in the 2012 TicketCity Bowl in Dallas.
Three things to watch:
The main question is: Which team will prevail in a matchup of strength vs. strength – Penn State's No. 1-ranked rush defense (84.8 yards per game) against a Boston College offense that is 14th in FBS rushing (251.8 yards per game) and has scored 29 touchdowns?
The quarterbacks - the Nittany Lions' Christian Hackenberg and the Eagles' Tyler Murphy - present contrasting styles, with Hackenberg having thrown for 2,606 yards and eight touchdowns and Murphy picking up 1,079 yards and scoring 10 touchdowns on the ground.
The Nittany Lions have turned the ball over twice as many times as Boston College (24-12). For Hackenberg, who has thrown 15 interceptions and lost four fumbles, ball security is of the utmost importance.
Three things you did not know:
The Nittany Lions defense allowed 300 yards or more of total offense against only one opponent this season and - surprise - it wasn't College Football Playoff participant Ohio State. Northwestern, in the Lions' fifth game of the season, gained 361 total yards.
Franklin and much of his coaching staff are participating in their fourth consecutive bowl game. He led Vanderbilt to a 2-1 bowl record in the last three seasons, including a 23-21 win over Houston last year in the BBVA Compass Bowl.
Addazio, 55, began his FBS coaching career as an assistant at Syracuse and coached at Notre Dame, Indiana, and Florida before getting his first head coaching job at Temple after the 2010 season. He went 13-11 with the Owls and led the 2011 team to a win in the New Mexico Bowl.
- Joe Juliano