PISCATAWAY, N.J. - It's become a weekly routine for James Franklin. The Penn State coach is asked a question about the rising stakes for his team or its climb up the College Football Playoff rankings or about what's happening nationally.
In response, Franklin will be sure to repeat the name of the Nittany Lions' next opponent multiple times. Two weeks ago, he said "Iowa" 11 times in row. Last week, with Indiana, he increased his record to 15 straight mentions.
So when someone asked Franklin at his weekly Tuesday teleconference about last weekend's rash of college football upsets, he added that he hoped the coach wouldn't say "Rutgers" 15 times in a row.
"You've got two choices here," Franklin replied. "You've got silence, uncomfortable silence, or you have 'Rutgers.' Which one would you prefer?"
He later added, "We're going to focus on the things we can control. That's not one of them. So our focus in our locker room is make good corrections from Saturday, and then we're moving on to Rutgers.
"So uncomfortable silence, Rutgers, uncomfortable silence, Rutgers."
The focus has been strong for Penn State (8-2, 6-1 Big Ten) during its six-game winning streak, a run it hopes to extend Saturday night against the Scarlet Knights (2-8, 0-7) at High Point Solutions Stadium to keep its chances alive for a berth in the conference championship game in two weeks.
Even when that concentration has slipped a bit during a game, the Nittany Lions have shown an aptitude to come from behind. In their 45-31 victory last week over Indiana, they rallied from a second-half deficit of 10 or more points for the third time during their undefeated October and November.
"Everybody's been taking pride in the fact that we're only looking one game ahead rather than worrying about the end of the season or whatever's going to happen," wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton said.
"So I think this whole team is maturing. No matter if it's a veteran or one of the younger guys, everybody's making sure that they're keeping their minds right and doing the right things on and off the field to make sure that we stay in a good place and we keep on having the success that we're having."
Rutgers enters its Senior Night on a seven-game losing streak. The Scarlet Knights are last in the Big Ten in four categories on offense and defense, including rush defense, where they allow more than 251 yards per game.
That could mean a big night for Penn State's Saquon Barkley, who leads the Big Ten in rushing. He has rushed for more than 200 yards twice this season but was limited to 58 yards in a career-high 33 carries last week. Last year, in his only other appearance against Rutgers, Barkley rushed for 195 yards.
With Rutgers averaging about 40,000 in its two previous home games in a stadium that seats more than 52,000, a large contingent of Penn State fans is expected to attend. The stadium attendance record of 53,774 was set when these two teams met in 2014.
After that game, Rutgers president Robert L. Barchi wrote a letter of apology to Penn State president Eric Barron because of "offensive actions" of "a very small handful of fans." Some fans wore T-shirts that read "Beat Ped State," a reference to the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
Rutgers athletic director Pat Hobbs sent an open letter Thursday to the university's fan base asking for fans to be "loud and proud, and respectful and classy. Our signage, T-shirts and language should support Rutgers football, not denigrate our opponent."
Franklin a semifinalist. Franklin was named as one of 16 semifinalists for the George Munger coach of the year award presented by the Maxwell Football Club of Philadelphia. Penn State coaches have won the honor four times, the last one being Bill O'Brien in 2012. Joe Paterno captured the award in 1990, 1994 and 2005. Franklin is one of four Big Ten coaches who are semifinalists.