STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - When Penn State coach James Franklin took his seat Friday behind a long desk at the front of the Beaver Stadium interview room, the Big Ten East trophy sat to his right, and the Big Ten championship trophy sat to his left, the tangible rewards of a surprising football season in Happy Valley.
The Nittany Lions have one more challenge, at the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2 against Southern California. And with their classic comeback from a 21-point deficit in the conference championship game against Wisconsin still fresh in the minds of coaches, players, and fans, Franklin has a bit of a concern.
"The fact that these guys are getting patted on the back and those types of things, there's confidence that comes with that," Franklin said at Penn State's only media availability on campus before the team leaves for Pasadena on Dec. 26.
"But we have to be careful that they're not overconfident and that we don't lose who we are, which is a blue-collar, hard-nosed team that focuses on preparation and controlling the things that we can control. That's going to be our message over and over again. We're going to stick to our plan. We're going to stick to our process."
However, after overcoming a 2-2 start with nine consecutive wins, the Nittany Lions didn't seem to be too worried about being overconfident for the Trojans (9-3), winners of eight in a row.
"I think our mind-set will stay the same as far as kind of that blue-collar, hard-working kind of mind-set," redshirt sophomore quarterback Trace McSorley said. "I don't think people are going to get overconfident in what's going on. I don't think that's going to be an issue."
Junior linebacker Jason Cabinda said it's a matter of not listening to the naysayers when the Lions were struggling during the first month, or getting overly confident with the current praise.
"I wouldn't call it overconfidence," he said. "I think our guys work really hard, and I think that's where your confidence comes from, from your work ethic. When you've consistently done something on the practice field and you know you're good at doing it, that's really where the confidence comes from because you know you've done it in the past."
Any lingering disappointment not making the four-team field for the College Football Playoff has been replaced by excitement over appearing in the Rose Bowl, which will be played for the 103rd time.
Offensive tackle Ryan Bates, a redshirt freshman who starred at Archbishop Wood High School, echoed a frequent line from his head coach about "controlling the controllables . . . and that's what we did," but liked where his team is headed.
"Oh, absolutely," Bates said. "Since I was younger, playing in the Rose Bowl, it was the granddaddy of them all. It's an honor to play in the Rose Bowl."
Sophomore cornerback John Reid (St. Joseph's Prep) said playing in the Rose Bowl "means a lot. I grew up wanting to play in the Rose Bowl, so it's a great feeling to be able to play in such a big bowl."
Franklin conceded that it was "fair and obvious to say that our guys and myself and everybody would love to have been part of the four" playoff teams. But he added that his team is happy to compete in the Rose Bowl and to face a playoff-quality team in the Trojans.
"You study these guys," he said, "and you look at their talent, you can make an argument that if you just take where teams are at the end of the season and don't talk about overall record but just say who are the best teams in college football right now, you could make an argument that USC would be in that conversation."