"Last year for them it was like the Super Bowl. But this year, for us, it was like beating Akron." - CJF— Black Shoe Diaries (@BSDtweet) September 9, 2017
An audible gasp, as well as a few chuckles from onlooking recruits, accompanied that quote from James Franklin in the media room following Penn State’s 33-14 victory over Pitt in Beaver Stadium on Saturday.
While Franklin later tried to walk back that statement, saying that Penn State treats every game like the Super Bowl, what was said was certainly what was meant.
If Franklin has shown Penn State and college football fans nationwide anything in his three-plus years at the helm of the Nittany Lions, it’s that he’s both incredibly media savvy and equally aware of the effects of his words. Nothing he says is without thought and nothing he says is without intent.
With his latest sound bite, the Penn State head honcho has made one thing clear: he doesn’t feel the Panthers are on the Nittany Lions’ level, both on the field and in terms of ambition.
Franklin’s words were echoed by senior linebacker Jason Cabinda.
When asked why Penn State players weren’t saying they own the state follow the win, Cabinda said, simply, “There’s no need to say it.”
This is where the onus begins to fall on the Panthers.
As much as many Penn State fans would like to say otherwise, the matchup between Penn State and Pitt has all the makings of a rivalry. There is undeniable hate between the two fan bases. The schools regularly fight for recruits in the area, albeit an often one-sided fight. And the players have shown a clear dislike for one another.
However, with Big Ten teams playing only three non-conference games per year, Pitt needs to step up its game. If Franklin and Penn State are to bridge the gap between themselves and perennial national powers Ohio State, Clemson and Alabama among others, the Nittany Lions will have to begin to schedule highly ranked non-conference opponents.
This process has already begun for Penn State as athletic director Sandy Barbour has announced future contests against both Virginia Tech (2020, 2025), West Virginia (2023, 2024), and Auburn (2021, 2022), and while those may seem far away, this type of scheduling needs to become a trend for the Nittany Lions.
While many, myself included, would like to see the Penn State-Pitt series continue beyond 2019, the Panthers need to make the strides necessary to become a perennial top-25 program in order to do so.
Until that point, Penn State and its fans will continue to be dismissive of the Panthers and James Franklin will continue to punch down.