Penn State head coach James Franklin has succeeded during his team's seven-game winning streak in keeping his players focused on the next game and away from the increasing chatter about how his program has risen into contention for a Big Ten championship.
But Saturday's final regular-season game, against Michigan State at Beaver Stadium, presents a pair of unique pregame challenges in which Franklin will need to restore that concentration before the opening kickoff.
It is Senior Day in Happy Valley, where the Nittany Lions will honor 17 seniors, most of whom had either just joined the team or had committed to the program around the time of the July 2012 NCAA sanctions related to the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
The other challenge - more like a distraction, really - is Saturday's game between Ohio State and Michigan, which will end around the time that Penn State and Michigan State kick off just after 3:30 p.m.
A win by the Buckeyes means the Nittany Lions can grab the East Division berth in the Big Ten championship game if they defeat the Spartans. If the Wolverines win, they go to the Dec. 3 title contest, but the Lions still can extend their win streak to eight games and likely find themselves in a New Year's Day bowl.
Speaking Tuesday at his weekly teleconference, Franklin said there were "a lot of different things we have to manage and make sure we're approaching the right way, make sure things don't affect, once that whistle blows, that we can go out and execute at a high level so we can find a way to be successful."
It is no secret that Franklin is an emotional person, so it was no surprise to hear defensive end Evan Schwan, when asked Tuesday who he felt would be the most emotional participant in the Senior Day observance, respond by saying, "Coach Franklin."
Franklin admitted he was "going to have a hard time on Saturday with these guys.
"I typically try to fight it as much as I possibly can," he said. "I'm fine doing that in closed quarters, team meetings, these guys individually. You don't want to be out there blubbering in front of 100,000 people in the stadium. It's not the right tone you want to set for your team that's about to play a tough, physical Big Ten football game."
The Ohio State-Michigan contest presents a dilemma for Franklin and the event operations folks who run the Beaver Stadium video board. When the Lions play at 3:30 p.m. or at night, a game already in progress is usually shown on the board until the teams are well into their pregame warm-ups.
Franklin said there will be a "discussion" with officials on whether to show the game in the stadium, and he also will address the matter with his team.
"How that game plays out, who wins, who loses, how people look at that and how that impacts our future . . . there's no doubt that's going to be a factor," he said. "So we're going to discuss it ahead of time. I'm going to go back to my approach - none of that matters if we don't handle our business on Saturday against Michigan State."
Franklin acknowledged that fan reaction certainly would make his players aware of what was going on.
"It's not like we just put our head in the sand and act like these things aren't going on," he said. "We discuss them as a program, we discuss them as a staff, with the players, let people get off their chest what they need to get off their chest, make sure we're approaching things the right way, the way players want to approach it as well as the coaches. Once again, we'll get our focus back to the task at hand, which is Michigan State."